Dec 29, 2009

A Decade in Review

Well, I certainly have not been a very faithful blogger over the Christmas holidays. Ever since Heather entered her break from school, I have not had the itch to write on ye olde blogge as much. I'm not sure why. I pretty much put all my planned topics on hold for the month of December and just enjoyed hanging out with the family. We spent a couple of weeks in Jacksonville, which encompassed Heather's birthday and Natalie's birthday and Christmas. Then we went to South Carolina for New Year's to be with Heather's brothers and their families. It was a nice holiday season.

So what have I been doing lately? Well, aside from those holiday and birthday celebrations, I have been reading a lot. And I certainly mean A LOT! I counted it up the other day and realized that in the last two months, I have read well over 5,000 pages worth of books. That doesn't count blogs or magazines or newspapers. (A free Chocolate Orange candy to the first person who can name 10 of the books that helped make up the 5,000 figure.) It is pretty funny that someone earlier this year told me they thought I wasn't reading as much. That was when I read half of the John Grisham collection in two weeks. In the month of December, I read at least 3500 pages. I guess it all goes in spurts.

I also have been freezing my rear end off. This has been a weird winter thus far. I have spent winters in south Florida, central Florida, west Florida, northeast Florida, and now northwest Florida. Each of them were very different. This one is the coldest, but I am not sure that is fair, since this is a record cold snap. My friend Greg up here told me this is the coldest it has been in his twelve years here. There even was a brief bit where the Weather Channel was predicting snow here on Friday. Then they all had a good laugh and changed it. The low for that night still is supposed to be 19. Wha? We just experienced insane cold up in South Carolina with a record low of 14. It is weird when temperatures could be football scores. (South Carolina 19, Florida 24) I'm used to them being basketball scores. (Orlando 85, Charlotte 79)

I'm not complaining - I like the cooler weather. It is a nice break from being cooked to medium rare going to check the mail. There are two things I'm not too fond of with the colder weather. The first is the asthma. Our kids all battle asthma to varying degrees. Josiah had a full attack the other night in SC - turning blue and everything. The dry heat in the house triggered it. All three kids have been coughing more since we have to run the heat so much. Now I know why people are told to move to Florida and Arizona when they have respiratory issues. The other thing I don't like is the bundling up process. You get the kids all dressed. They have long shirts and pants - sometimes two shirts. Then you have to put on the jackets and such - to walk fifty feet to the car. Then they want to take it all off. Then you put it on to walk from the parking lot to Publix. Then you take the jackets off. Then back on . . . and off . . . . and on . . . and off. I think that alone would drive me crazy if I lived up north. The cold I can handle. It is what to do with my jacket that pushes me over the edge.

So to the true point of my post. Apparently we have entered a new decade and a new year. At least that is what I figured from all the weight loss ads and promotions I have seen lately. I decided to forgo my yearly recap, where I use my limited exposure to the world at large to make ridiculous rankings. Instead, I will use that limited exposure to my benefit, and recap the decade that just waved adios. It was a big decade for me - the Aughts. I was thinking about that the other day. What a huge difference ten years makes. I honestly don't know if I could top this decade. So, here's my self indulgent recap of 2000-2009. You may think it is stupid. But, honestly, would that be a first for this blog? If you aren't happy, send your comments and insults to my new secretary: Myrtle McIntosh, 2506 Lilly Pond Way, Sharkfart, TX, 76067.

2000: What a crazy year! I got engaged in February to Heather. In June, I had the awesome experience of going to Sydney, Australia for three weeks to help run sports camps at a church there. August 12 it rained. It also was our wedding day. We went to Vermont for our honeymoon and got to see where my dad was born and grew up (and is buried). I quit my job at FBC Temple Terrace in December; and we found out we were expecting Josiah two days later. All of that collided with Christmas in Georgia, Heather's brother getting married (which was my first wedding ceremony to officiate), and the first time I saw snow. Wow.

2001: I started off the year unemployed and expecting a child. YAY! Heather withdrew from USF. We moved to Orange Park. I worked as a substitute teacher for a few months. Then I became a furniture salesman at Rhodes Furniture. In September, we welcomed our first child into the world on the day the world officially went crazy. We all tried to understand what to do with the fall of the Twin Towers, the anthrax attacks, the new war in Afghanistan. I personally withdrew as far away from God as I ever have been. And I got a Palm Handspring for Christmas.

2002: After seventeen months of seeking more gainful employment, I was hired in May by First Baptist Church of Oviedo. That meant a move down to Orlando for my little family. It was a very challenging job, but very rewarding - and it has led to so much more than I could imagine for all of us. Heather returned to school in the Fall, this time getting her priorities straight and becoming a UCF Knight. And in a wacky turn of events, my mom moved up to Orlando late in 2002 - something I never would have expected.

2003: Another year of surprises. The Tampa Bay Bucs won the Super Bowl. I was thrilled. We went up to South Carolina for Spring Break. While there, we found out Heather was pregnant as she was going through a miscarriage. Less than a month later, we were stunned again as we found out that Heather was pregnant again, which led to another break in school for Heather. I got begin a friendship with Charles Wise at the church - which played a very important role in our lives. I started working as the layout person and editor for a Christian newspaper. Natalie showed up at Christmas - just as her name (which we had chosen back in 1999) indicates. [Natalie means "Christmas child."] We moved out of our scary apartment into a rental home, and we hosted Christmas at our house.

2004: We now became the Staples Family 4. Things went along pretty normally for a while. I began to hate the Bucs, due to their shady dealings. My mom moved to Tampa to be closer to my sister, Holly. I turned 30 and finally got a watch that fit my needs - never needing a battery (still running perfectly). Heather went back to school in the Fall. Josiah also went to school for the first time as he went to the 2 year old class at our church's preschool. My last grandparent passed away in September. She had lived long enough to see her first great-granddaughter, though. Heather turned 25 in December. I threw her an awesome party with London Broil and a big strawberry shaped cake. (You can tell it was a slow year.)

2005: In March, my prayer for a ministry to work in was answered as Charles Wise, Jonathan Pearson, and myself founded Defender Ministries. I was able to design all sorts of products and basically create the look of the ministry. By the end of the year, I had written several rounds of curriculum. Heather ramped up her school work to prepare for Med School - which we had decided was what she would aim for. (Well, I finally agreed that it was the right thing. Heather had known for years and was patiently waiting for me to get my head out of my rear end.) I got to experience the spectacle that is Las Vegas in July at a design conference - which came with the important lesson that if you are broke, alone, and not prone to drinking or carousing, Vegas is very boring place. We moved to a different rental house that Fall, even farther away from anywhere we needed to be.

2006: Lots of movement in StaplesLand. I saw my first real blizzard in February as I went up to Montreal to plan a mission trip for the church. It was 9 degrees! That's a baseball score! Defender was picking up steam - as we were able to teach sessions at various conferences. I quit my job at the church in July to go full time with Defender (although I still did all the graphics for the church for another four months). We got a new Honda Odyssey. Natalie started preschool. Heather finally was able to graduate in December from UCF. All was right with the world. Our kids were potty trained and weaned. We decided that our family was complete. So Heather and I booked a cruise for January 2007.

2007: Heather and I went on our first cruise ever. We got to see Key West and Mexico. It was awesome. And our little cruise souvenir was discovered - as Gabe decided to crash the Staples party. We began to attend Waypoint Church in Orlando - where we made some wonderful deep friendships. I took over the college ministry in early summer. Defender continued to do its thing - speaking engagements, lesson writing, looking for supporters to help hit the next level. Heather began studying in earnest for the MCAT (Med School Entrance Exam). My sister had her son, Toby - making me an uncle for the first time. Josiah started Kindergarten. We moved yet again to a home closer to our circle of friends. Gabe arrived in September.

2008: Heather took her MCAT in March and nailed a 30 on it - exactly where she needed to be (while having a newborn seemingly permanently attached to her). I had to find some other jobs to help cover costs. I began to work at the Apple store in August. (YAY!) I also began teaching at International Community School (DOUBLE YAY!) Josiah entered public school in August, but it was a huge disaster. We ended up pulling him out and enrolling him at ICS - which was a huge success. We really seemed to be hitting our stride. The kids were doing well in school. I had four great jobs that I loved. Heather was applying to Med Schools, but we really wanted to get into UCF's new school. We moved again (common theme, I know) to an apartment. And the year ended with all of us pretty happy and excited about the new year.

2009: Heather got accepted at FSU's Med School, which meant all of us were moving to Tallahassee. Gabe got to see snow in February and was not impressed. The other two kids got ticked at this, since they were trapped in Orlando with me. Heather's brother Andy and his wife Michelle had their first child, Beulah, in April. She was a miracle baby - I am fully convinced. We moved in May, which is when Heather started classes. In July, Heather's grandfather passed away, which was very hard on all of us. Natalie started Kindergarten, and we decided to homeschool the kids. It was a huge disaster. So we ended up enrolling them at Apalachee Elementary, which has been a huge success. Heather, of course, did an amazing job in Med School. And I settled into my new role as stay-at-home dad. Heather turned 30 in December. And we got iPhones.

It was an eventful decade to say the least. I started it single, 25, living in Tampa, running a college ministry, and going to seminary. I ended it married, 35, with three kids, living in Tallahassee, running my own ministry, staying at home with a wife becoming a doctor. 2000 found me rooting for the Bucs and the Yankees, hating the NBA. UCF was, of course, number one. 2010 finds me having ditched the disloyal Bucs for the Jags, given up on baseball, and rediscovered the NBA and the Magic. UCF is, as always, the most important sports entity to me - but now they have their own stadium. In 2000, I hated Macs. In 2010, I own nothing but Macs and Apple stuff. A lot happens in ten years. It is important to look back sometimes at how far you have come. It helps to remind you of what was really important. It shows me how minor events end up being big deals down the road. And I see how God is with me all the way. I hope that you had some time between the presents and getting back to work to think about those things in your life. And I hope I didn't bore you too much with my reminiscing. If I did, Myrtle is waiting for your letters. Make her earn her paycheck.

Dec 22, 2009

The Tomboy Princess

Once upon a time, there was a princess. She was a lovely young lady, and every bit of a princess as you would expect. Pink was her favorite color. Her hair cascaded all the way down her back, since she insisted it be long. Dresses were her clothing option of choice. At every turn, she would pick flowers and celebrate all things lovely. She danced around the room and sang all the time and pranced wherever she went. Never had there been a more princessy princess in all these many years.

In the same land, there was a tomboy. She was as rough and tumble as any boy. From an early age, she had absolutely no fear in asking for exactly what she wanted. As she would stroll around the land, she would bend down and play in the dirt and grab acorns to stuff into her pockets. Nary a puddle avoided her stomping. When someone would dare cross her path, she would just as soon slug them as look at them. All of her clothes bore the telltale signs of a mud lover - stains on the knees and sleeves. Never had there been a more tomboyish tomboy.

The amazing story was that the princess and the tomboy were the same girl. And today is her birthday. She turned six. As I have said in posts when she turned four and three, Natalie is an awesome little girl. She's funny and cool and smart. I am really impressed at the young lady she is becoming. As we were saying tonight at her party, there are times that I can't believe she is already six. And then there are times when I can't believe she is only six. It seems like just yesterday that she was even born. But then, I think about how she hangs out with Josiah all the time and seems so much older.

This past fall, we were able to enroll the older kids in Tallahassee's city-
run gymnastics program. Natalie was in the Kindergarten class. It was always humorous as the girls would walk from one end of the gym to the other. Nat towered over her class - about a head taller than any other little girl. She wasn't hampered by that. The teachers were surprised just how flexible she was. And she loved the flipping and being girly. And then on the way home, she would tear off a burp that I couldn't believe came from a female of any age.

I love the dichotomy that is Nat. She desperately wants to learn to read better. She is constantly wanting to spell words and gets upset if she doesn't have homework. But then she is colossally lazy when it comes to cleaning. Like, it is impressive just how committed she is in her refusal to work. She fell asleep last night on Josiah's shoulder watching him play his Nintendo DS. But then she'll flip out that he plays it too much. Some days she will hug and kiss you, the next try to kung fu kick you.

Yesterday she was playing out in the backyard with the boys, chasing the football. By the time she got done, her clothes were all dirty - thanks to tackling her brothers. Today, on her birthday, she got her nails done, got jewelry and nail stuff and baking stuff and a pink unicorn. And that is probably the best two days she could have had. Beating the stuffing out of her brothers and then putting the stuffing into a unicorn. And that is the story of the Tomboy Princess. And we all lived happily ever after.

Dec 5, 2009

Six Month Recap, Volume 1

We just recently finished up our first six month stint in Tallahassee. Heather completed her second semester of classes on Friday. It is hard to believe it has already been that long! I wanted to be in a happy mood today, so I decided that I would take a look at my favorite things so far in the state capital. And, just so you don't think someone else hijacked my blog, I'll also put just a small list of things I am not quite as fond of.

1. The Food
I already wrote about this back in the summer. Tallahassee is an older city, so it has more small independent restaurants and fewer chains. That means more variety and good prices. We don't go out all that often, but when we do, we always enjoy it. So far, here is my favorite dining finds. (And, yes, they are different than my last coverage of this.)
  • 1 Fresh Stir Fry - This is my favorite place in Tallahassee. It is amazing. You can get bowls of rice or noodles, with meat, sauce, and any variety of toppings. I like the versatility. You can go for Italian with penne, marinara, chicken, and veggies. You can do Mexican with rice and steak, salsa sauce, peppers, corn, and black beans. You can do Chines with noodles, chicken, teriyaki, and vegetables. Or you can get a wrap, quesadilla, bowl of soup, sushi - or any of a number of egg rolls or won tons. It also reheats just as good as the original, so a large bowl gets you two meals. And the kids like it.
  • Barnaby's Family Inn - I talked about this place last time. It has awesome pizza. We all love it. It's our default pizza joint.
  • Peppers Mexican Grill - Last time I mentioned how good La Fiesta is. Let's put it this way, since we tried Peppers, we haven't been back to La Fiesta. They have lunch specials that are VERY good deals. Tuesday night features free kids meals. They have fish tacos, which Heather thinks are awesome. That is one of my favorite meals, but I haven't even tried it since their steak burritos are so good. And they have awesome queso sauce and salsa. Oh, and they put veggies in their fried rice, which is very good.
  • Piggy's BBQ - The only thing I really need to say is Feed Your Family Meal. $27.99 for four heaping servings of meat, four giant sides, and four drinks. It actually serves six. Awesome pulled pork, brisket, ribs. And they have a sweet potato casserole that is sooo good. The kids meals come with mini ice cream cones. All meals come with drinks. They just do things right.
  • Canopy Road Cafe - Their sweet potato pancakes are so incredible that if that was the only thing they served, I would still have them ranked. Except they have an enormous menu with all kinds of pancakes, scrambles, sandwiches. Like a local IHOP that wasn't greasy or overpriced - and if it was run by weirdos. (The wait staff is pretty, uh, unique.)
  • Honorable Mention - Rummy's Pizza, La Fiesta, Smokey's BBQ
  • Honorable Dismention - Helen's Silver Bullet Cafe for closing down and making my kids sad. Boooo.
2. The Seasons
I remember growing up in West Palm Beach, we used to joke that there were only two seasons. There was Summer, which lasted for about nine or ten months. And there was Fallintering. This lasted for maybe two months, three if you were lucky. I badly wanted to have more cold weather. I don't like sweating or baking or broiling. I like to be able to walk down to the car without sweating like I ran a sprint. My dad was from Vermont. He once bought me a shirt that said "Vermont: Spring Summer Fall Winter Winter Winter." I thought that was funny, and I was jealous. Orlando, Tampa? No difference. Maybe Fallintering lasted three or four months. Well, up here there are definitely three seasons. Fallinter, Springter, and Summer. Summer lasts about six or seven months. It still gets ugly and nasty hot. But there actually is a point when the 80 and 90 (and 100) degree madness ends. I like having to wear long sleeve shirts, or being very comfortable wearing short sleeve shirts. It is nice being able to light a fire in the fireplace. And some days, gasp, I don't have to run the A/C at all.

3. The Kids' School
I was so nervous about putting the kids into public school. But their school is great. The kids have loved it and learned so much. But there also has been all kinds of special activities. They had a music/reading performance for the 2nd graders. There are monthly "late night media nights" in the media center. They also have monthly "parents' night out" events. Last night, they had a special free night at the Museum of Arts and Science for our school. On the 15th, all the kids in K-2 are going to see the Princess and the Frog for free at the AMC theater. I have been impressed at the number of corporate sponsorships this school has gotten, and how much stuff they do with the city and county. So far, the school is a huge win.

4. Local Government Programs
I have been very impressed at the number of activities, events, and facilities the local government has set up in Tallahassee. The number of parks here should embarrass cities like Orlando. They have REALLY nice parks. And they also have water parks with slides and huge pools, for like two bucks per person. The city funds a huge gymnastics/dance facility. My kids went this past semester, and would go back in the spring if we could get the schedules to work right. It cost less for us to do a 14 week series than it would to do two weeks at a private gym. There are city-wide pep rallies before every home game. There is a winter festival downtown next week. I am very impressed how much is going on - really adds to the small town feel.

5. The Big School in Town
I love UCF and Orlando. I really do. And I know that UCF is the biggest school in Florida now. [HA HA - suck on THAT!] But the way Orlando grew, it grew up in sections. There is Disney and the tourist side. There is downtown. There is UCF and East Orlando. And there soon will be the Medical City on 417. They don't interact. Now that UCF plays on campus instead of the Citrus Bow, UCF could be in a different city. That is NOT the case in Tallahassee. If you haven't been here, FSU is basically the heart of the city. If FSU wasn't here, the city would be a shell, for the most part. Being a person who has worked with college students for a long time, I love the feeling of having a school so close. You know when there is a home football game because the traffic picks up, the stores get busy, there is a buzz. And that is cool. Tally actually has two big schools, since FAMU is also here. And that just adds to the collegiate air.

  • The traffic is frequently really annoying - and SLOW.
  • There is not a lot to do for a family. I hear there is a great art scene. An 8, 6, and 2 year old could care less about art scenes. I think art is super, but I don't go to museums. And the malls are lame. Not a big fan of that.
  • No 4 Bedroom Apartments. Seriously, I can't find a place that has four bedroom apartments that are not rented out to four different people. It is so weird.
  • The drive anywhere else. It used to be so easy to take a quick jaunt to visit someone the weekend. Two hours, three at the most, would land us in in Jacksonville or Tampa. Now, it takes four-five hours to get to Tampa or Orlando and 2.5-3 to get to Jacksonville. That doesn't sit well with kids.
  • My storage unit is in Orlando. I don't think a day goes by that we don't wish our storage unit was up here. We have so much cool stuff that we would use. But it's in Orlando.
So that is my quick update on life in Tallahassee. It is going well. The first half year has been good. And we are looking forward to Christmas. Heather has a whole month off, which will be great for all of us.

Nov 28, 2009

A Life Unordinary

The problem with Grandpa Blann, according to the world, is that he wasn’t interesting enough. By this, they would mean that he didn’t generate enough headlines. There was no scandal to capture the imagination. There was no flashy lifestyle to cause awe and envy. There was not a constant stream of behaviors and actions that seemed staged just to keep him in the limelight. He was too ordinary. Too common. Too boring.

But, to those who truly knew him, Grandpa Blann was hardly common. He lived his life in a wholly uncommon way. He loved his bride as they stayed together for 66 years. He served in the most remote parts of Africa. He led a Bible college, preached at churches, and helped lay the foundations of a denomination. As the decades passed, his expertise moved from manual printing press to computers and handheld computing devices. But he was more efficient using his older techniques and makeshift tools than most people are with modern advances. If there was a field he was unfamiliar with, he tried to learn what he could about it. He never wanted to stop learning - even when he could have been justified in doing so.

He reached out to the lives of every person who crossed his path. It could be the lady running a fast food counter. It could be a nervous fiance of one of his grandchildren. Grandpa loved and ministered to everyone. It was just second nature to him. And when it was time for him to go home to be with the Savior he loved, he did it surrounded by the family he loved and served. His wife was there to kiss him goodbye. And there was not a person in the world who had anything against him. And even though we knew it was coming, the finality of it all sucked the air out of rooms across the world - as we all lost a man who changed our lives.

So that may seem boring or ordinary or common to the masses. But to those people whose lives were touched by this man, we knew he truly was extra-ordinary.

Nov 23, 2009

FEATHER RUFFLING: Worship Style Battles

The next few posts will be part of a series I am titling FEATHER RUFFLING. I have long hesitated writing posts that are overly critical of the Church. I have not wanted to write things that would ultimately be a stumbling point for someone seeking Christ. With my tweaking of the site in July, I found a way to classify my posts into categories. So, it is apparent that this is a religious post. If someone is not interested in those topics, they can feel free to skip this one and return when I drift back to analyzing spicy chicken sandwiches or something. The reason I finally decided to write this is that I am tired of watching the Church destruct over issues like the ones I am going to address. It makes me angry - and that is an anger like I described in this post where it spurs you to make things right. My goal is not to vent or make it appear like I have all the answers. I want to address these topics. Maybe someone you know is wrestling with these issues as well. You can use this as a tool for them. Or it can be a launching point for you to remind me of how stupid I am. Whatever works.

The Worship Style Battles have been raging in churches for at least twenty years, from my personal experience. I remember being in high school in the late 80s/early 90s and having younger and more "progressive" worship leaders entering the ministry and introducing praise songs instead of just hymns. But the true heated battle began with the emergence of groups like Hillsong Church in Australia, Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Passion Worship (which spawned David Crowder Band, Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall, Matt Redman), and Contemporary Christian Music embracing the trend of popular "praise music" (Michael W Smith, Sonicflood - then grasped by most major artists like Newsboys, Third Day, Mercy Me). People became very familiar with the more "contemporary" praise and worship music being played on Christian radio and sold in stores. Then wanted that style of music to be utilized in church as well.

To define the terms of the battle, there is traditional worship and contemporary worship. There also is a very hazy and nebulous blended worship. All of these terms are defined by the listener and church, since there is no set definition. I have been in churches that defined traditional as all hymns, a choir, and a piano and organ. I have also been in churches that felt that their service became contemporary because they added a praise song and got rid of their organ. [Side Note: A hymn is what is found in a hymnal. A praise song is usually not, and it was probably written in the last fifteen or twenty years. Although some older praise songs have reached acceptable status with hymn lovers. "There Is a Redeemer" and "Shine Jesus Shine" are two of those.] Contemporary encompasses a wide variety of elements - praise teams, praise band, single worship leader on the guitar, orchestra. Since it is so hard to determine what exactly is traditional or contemporary, a new style developed. The Blended style means that you use both styles. You sing hymns and praise songs. You have a piano and choir. But you also have drums, guitars, and a praise team in front on the stage.

Reading this description of the battle, it probably is confusing and slightly goofy. Congratulations. You now see the problem with this entire conflict. Why is this even an issue? But it is an issue in churches all across the country. The church we just joined is going through it right now. This is usually how it plays out. There is one group of people who prefer a more traditional style of worship. They prefer more hymns, maybe an orchestra, piano and organ. This group is usually older, usually more powerful in the church, and usually gives more money to the church. Then there is another group that prefers a more contemporary style of worship. They want praise songs, more emotion, no organ, guitars and drums, and a single worship leader with backing vocals. This group is usually younger - including younger families and college and high school students. They don't put as much money into the church, but they are the precise group most churches are desperate to reach to secure the church's longevity.

The church will usually try to fix this problem by forcing some sort of cooperation. The music minister may have to start pulling more songs from the other style from where he is familiar. There may be an "assistant music minster" hired to bring experience in the opposite style. Eventually, the blending doesn't make anyone happy. So many churches go the route of starting a second service. The traditional service with the older people and older music is held earlier in the day. The contemporary service with the younger crowd and newer music is held later. The other option is to run these two services simultaneously with a video feed of the pastor preaching, or a rotation among the other staff guys.

Basically, that church is now two churches. The two groups are completely independent of each other, separated largely by age. They never interact as a church body. Sunday School classes are almost always age and/or gender based. The older people (the very same people who the Bible says should be teaching and mentoring the younger people) never see the younger people. Proponents of this system say that these groups interact at Sunday night services or on Wednesday nights. I will call "horse hockey" on that immediately. Most churches are ditching their Sunday night services all together. And Wednesday nights, you sit with your family and/or closest friends and never even talk to the other groups. In addition, the older crowd is always at the Wednesday night dinners first and are clearing out by the time the younger crowd wanders in to eat. You have two churches under one roof, plain and simple. Let's take a closer detailed look at the two style arguments.

They like to use the hymnal. Their argument is that their style is more reverential. It has more depth. They hold up the hymns and the great theological and doctrinal truths in them. The simpler music style keeps the focus off of the people on stage and puts it on the music. This can be true. There are some phenomenal truths in the hymns. If you study the back stories on hymns, you would be blown away. The author of "It Is Well With My Soul" wrote it after losing his four children when their ship sunk. "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" was penned by Martin Luther and became a rallying cry for the Protestant Reformation. There are some tremendous hymns with powerful messages. Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Amazing Grace, Jesus Saves. They can't help but move your with their message. But there are some very stupid hymns. Heresy, you say. Ever read "O God of Earth and Outer Space?" Dumbest song ever. How about every invitational hymn that makes Jesus sound like a wet, whipped puppy scratching at the door and waiting for the doggy door to get unlocked? "Oh, how He wants to come in." And there are some Christmas hymns that seem like they were talking about a different event than the one in Luke. The other big problem with the traditional style is that, while it is reverential, it also can be very cold and disconnected. When you have been singing the same songs for fifty years, they can lose their meaning. It can become a rote action. In many churches, these services are dry and hard to sit through - because it seems like everyone is phoning it in.

This group is big on the experience. They want to be moved emotionally. They want to feel something. The songs are newer with more emotive elements, intentional phrasing and crafting to maximize the feelings. They point at the dryness of some traditional services and the life in theirs. This group is easy to target on several fronts. The accusers say they use 7-11 songs, where there are seven words being sung eleven times. Their music is seen as low depth and high manipulation. The worship leaders often are more concerned about appearance and talent. They use lots of product in their hair, pay a lot of money to dress casual. A lot of these groups focus on performance - lights, smoke machines, getting into the music. It is easy to shoot at this group. But, the fact is, a good number of these contemporary songs are very good. Laura Story's "Indescribable" is phenomenal (more famously sung by Chris Tomlin). As is a lot of David Crowder and Chris Tomlin's stuff. Crowder's Remedy album is simply amazing. And a good number of these newer guys are deeply passionate about Jesus. Bill Horn runs contemporary worship at FBC Lakeland. To this day, he is one of the best worship leaders I have ever had the pleasure to serve with. His heart is without a doubt 100% given over to God and it is never a performance for him. He just is drawn to this style. And he has a fauxhawk.

So what is even the issue? Is it all over which instruments and songs are sung? A large amount of it has to deal with comfort level. The traditional crowd grew up with a specific style of worship. They are accustomed to that. There may be room for small changes, like using projected lyrics or the occasional praise song. But they want to experience church they way they always have. They prefer a more reverent atmosphere. The music was a way to get you focused for the sermon. I attended this kind of church from when I was a child until college. I know all the major hymns. I have heard ladies' trios, men's quartets, organ offertories. That is the foundation I experienced in church.

Part of the contemporary crowd grew up in that traditional background, but saw it as old-fashioned and wanted to move past it. The rest of them probably grew up in the more contemporary mindset. This music is more emotional. It is constructed to create a "worship experience" in and of itself. The sermon is to be laid on this carefully prepared "worshipful mindset." (Sermons also are supposed to be shorter and more "relevant" - to not kill the buzz, I guess.) There is a lot of emoting in the worship leaders. Closed eyes, grimaced and painful faces, hands raising. It is more showy in nature - replicating a concert atmosphere. Songs can be extended and sung with multiple choruses as long as "the Spirit moves." Being in college ministry for a long time, this is the worship style I have been around more for the second half of my life.

So which is right? Neither. Yeah, that's what I said. Neither side is right. There isn't a right or wrong in this issue. It is a PREFERENCE. You prefer one style, I prefer another. You like Coke and I like Pepsi. You like beef and I like bison. It is like you may prefer gangster rap while I prefer rock. But it all misses the point. We think that this is about what WE want to do. Rick Warren in his multi-gazillion selling 40 Days of Purpose book made a brilliant point right at the start. "It isn't about you. Worship is not about you. If you walk out of church always saying what you got out of it, you missed the point." I paraphrased that, but that is the general gist of what he was saying. Worship is supposed to be us offering our devotion and allegiance and praise to God. That's what it is all about. We are giving it to Him. It is our gift to Him. And in a church setting, it is a congregation giving God the gift of our unified worship to Him. But we are caught up fighting what the gift looks like. How would you like it if your kids spend the week leading up to Christmas having huge knock-down, drag-out fights about what to get you for Christmas. Finally, they either came and gave you some weird hybrid of two presents - all while glaring at each other. Or they gave you two different presents and kept arguing about which was better. Would you be pleased with that gift?

Both sides have worth. Both sides have weaknesses. But that isn't even the point. It should be about the body focusing on God and lifting Him up. I don't believe for a minute that is it not possible for both groups to worship together. Here's a few stories to illustrate that.
  • Todd Stearns was worship pastor at the first church where I served on staff. He was an unmatched talent. He could sing like a national artist. He played the piano. He wrote music. (And he was a good looking and funny guy - could have been a huge star but never felt he should pursue it.) He led a choir, a praise team. He sang solos, duets with his equally talented wife, quartets. Didn't matter. We had three different services with three different styles there. It didn't matter which service you went to, Todd gave equal effort. He led hymns, praise songs, choral numbers. But he also was a true prayer warrior. And the most memorable thing that ever happened was on a Sunday when we were honoring our pastor's fifth anniversary. As the solo before the sermon, Todd sat at the piano and sang Keith Green's "O Lord, You're Beautiful." It was so powerful and moving that everyone sat there like the crowd at the end of Schindler's List. The pastor just walked up to the mic and said, "Well, I guess we should just have the invitation." Contemporary service: nine people got saved. Blended service: same thing happened and five people got saved. No one cared that the song was almost twenty years old.
  • Travis Cottrell was leading music at the National Collegiate Conference in North Carolina. He is an amazing worship leader - sings hymns, praise songs, blends them together. He does a version of "In Christ Alone" that is combined with "On Christ the Solid Rock" that had brought me to tears several times. Anyway, one night during the evening service there was a painter doing a big mural. Travis was leading music. He said that there was a big debate about whether it was appropriate to talk about Christ's blood. There were those who said the blood was too gory and violent. So they were pushing for churches to stop. But Travis said that the Bible repeatedly talks about the power of the blood. So he led this group of 1000 college students through about 20-30 minutes of hymns about the blood. Every single one had the word in it. No Powerpoint. No projector. No hymnals. The students knew all the songs by heart - and it was amazing.
  • I was in one service not too long ago where the pastor was doing a profile of great people in the Bible. The final service was about Jesus. So all the songs they sang were about the cross. The congregation sang several songs together - two hymns and one praise song. Then the choir did a great song called "Power of the Cross." The choir got down and the praise team and praise band came up for the rest of the music. They played several praise songs about the cross. The pastor preached. And then the praise team leader sang a beautiful solo acoustic rendition of "Beautiful Scandalous Night." The entire service pointed to one person and one thing - Jesus and His death on the cross. They used choir, praise team, solo, congregation - singing hymns, praise songs, choral numbers. It was an amazing blend with a touching unity of purpose. Where was that? Our new church - the same one that in that same service announced they were splitting into two services.
Now, why, I ask you, does it have to resort to a battle? Why must there be splits within churches? Why must so much energy and effort be spent trying to push your own preference? If it truly is about God, and not us, then why must we fight at all? Can't we recognize the worth of all styles? Can't we work together to highlight the message? Both sides should learn to give a little. This isn't about doctrine or theology. This is about song choice and instrument usage and how much product someone uses in their hair. It is ridiculous and it only serves to split the church and dilute the message of the Gospel. And it makes for a lousy gift to God.

Nov 19, 2009

Storm Drain

Last night Josiah had a class presentation up at their school. It was really cool. Each second grade class had their own musical presentation based on a book. So it taught reinforced the need for reading, while also teaching music. Josiah's class did Alexander's Terrible Awful No Good Very Bad Day. The school the kids go to is also an Arts Magnet School. So they have more music and art stuff than the average school. Good for us. At the performance, the school also received a $2000 check from Target to help cover the costs of new instruments and other stuff for this particular event. (They do it each year.) It was really cool to see how the kids are doing at the school - they had little friends who came up to them and said hey. The teachers and administrators waved at the kids and were really pleasant.

But that's not what I wanted to write about. During the performance, Gabe was getting very upset that Josiah was not sitting with us. Then he saw Josiah up on stage. Then he got very upset that he was not allowed to go sit with Josiah. He would go and stand in the aisle and then slowly creep down the aisle. Finally one time he just kept right on walking. Heather caught him about two rows before the front. It was at that point that I got to assume my standard position with Gabe at a performance, movie, church service -- standing outside.

We went out of the cafeteria and Gabe started walking around. There is this gigantor grassy area outside of the cafeteria. It has benches and a monstrous tree in the middle. If I was a kid, this would be very cool. Run run run, little man. You are trapped in a little crappy apartment all day. Here's your chance to just go nuts and run to your heart's content. Nope. Not part of Gabers' plan. He went walking right towards the storm drain area that is up against the driveway. Not only is there a driveway that had cars pulling through it. But there is also this really scary drop that slopes into the storm area. I can just see myself stepping into that crevice and snapping my leg. (Please remember how bad of a klutz I am.)

Gabe has no idea that this is down there. He just sees the street and wants to walk into it. I keep stopping him and moving him back on to the grassy area. I try to distract him. He would run back to the sidewalk and then would slowly walk back towards the street - trying to trick me. All told, he probably ventured up to the edge a dozen times. Each time I would have to literally stand in front of him and redirect him back away from danger. This is pretty normal behavior for me and Gabe. All day as we sit around the apartment, he does stupid things to try to maim himself and I have to try to stop him. He jumps off the couch. He slides down my computer bag. He bangs his head on the entertainment center doors. He tries to climb up Josiah's bunk bed ladder. Any time a door opens he races outside. He doesn't want you to hold his hand through the parking lot - he just wants to run unabated to the car.

It seems like he has a death wish. If I had to pick which kid is "most likely to break a limb," Gabe would win. If I had to pick which kid is "most likely to tick someone off with their shenanigans and get popped in the mouth," Gabe would win. He is nuts. I am soooo much more patient with him than with the older two. Experience and growth as a person has helped with that. But I am constantly amazed at how often he just walks right up to the edge and try to get away with it. He will bang on stuff and not stop until I get up to grab the item. He pushes and pushes. It is frustrating. But it is because he's two and testing every boundary he has - including the boundaries of gravity and vehicle acceleration/braking.

So what's my excuse? I think about the number of times that I have done the exact same thing. I go right up to the edge and try to get away with it. Actually, I think all of us do that. We all want to know how fast we can drive before we get a ticket. How much can we fudge on our taxes before we get an audit? How much pizza can we jam in our gut before we get sick? How little work can I do before my boss gets mad and fires me? People always are testing their limits. Sometimes it doesn't even make sense. Sometimes I ask myself, "What the heck am I doing? Why am I even testing this limit?" I push right up to the edge to see how far I can go without getting hurt, getting in trouble, getting shunned in a Klingon ceremony where everyone spins away from me and makes strange guttural sounds.

What I don't realize - much like Gabe last night - is that there is this enormous field right behind me that I could run around and have a ton of safe fun. He was so absorbed with trying to jump off the curb into the street that he missed out on a football field of grass and a huge tree. He could have had so much fun running around, messing with mulch, kicking the tree. But he just kept wanting to jump off the curb. We are just like that as adults. People are just like that. They are so obsessed with knowing where "the line" is. They want to know how far they can go without catching a disease or ending up on someone's hit list. If they would just turn around, there is a whole world of excitement right there waiting. Why do we need to get so close to that line? Why do we have to dance on the precipice of danger? Sure, it is exciting due to that danger. But the risks are enormous. You would think that a lifetime of 90% fun with no risk of disaster would outweigh a moment of 100% fun with a high risk of wiping out. That would make sense.

But, man, that storm drain sure looks fun . . .

Nov 11, 2009

Veteran's Day

I did not think that I had ever written about this topic on ye olde blogge. But to be sure, I strapped on my lighted helmet and went digging through the dusty, cobweb laden archives of Blogville. Alas, I realized that really had - shockingly - never written at all about Veteran's Day or Memorial Day. I know I did once back at First Baptist Temple Terrace in a piece that ran on the back of the bulletin. Hmm. Well, I guess I should remedy that.

Today is Veteran's Day. It is the day when we are supposed to express our gratitude for those men and women who helped defend our country over the decades. Or, as most American children call it, that day that we get off from school right before Thanksgiving. Veteran's Day almost was a lost holiday a few years ago - until the current efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq began. I remember it coming and going without much of a peep. That's why I wrote that article at FBCTT for Memorial Day one year. No one else was doing it and I thought it needed to be done.

Veteran's Day and Memorial Day are very important to me. As some of you know, my father served as a Marine. He fought in the Korean War and was wounded. He carried those wounds every day of his life after that. Now he is buried in a beautiful Veteran's Cemetery in Vermont. I think of all the things my father did in his life, the thing I was the most proud of was his service to his country. He was always a good worker and made his way up the ladder at the Post Office. But none of that compared to the fact that he was a soldier. He had a Purple Heart.

He never talked much about the war. He would sometimes tell stories about things - usually with the enhancements that made him such an amazing storyteller. But it was hard to get information about Korea out of him. I remember doing a paper in ninth grade on the War, hoping to use him as a source. He didn't want to do it. I think it was too much. My father had that tough streak, refusing to admit fear. And I think that Korea was just months of pure fear. I can see why. I have David Halberstam's amazing Korean War book - The Coldest Winter. Halberstam is one of my favorite writers, but I can only read small chunks at a time. The reality of that horrific war comes through so clearly that it is hard to stomach - knowing my dad was there makes it even harder.

Sometimes it was hard to match the image of my father as I knew him with the picture of him as a young Marine. Sure, the temper part I could picture. But he didn't seem a soldier type. He didn't run his home like some former military guys - where they treat their kids like little soldiers. In fact, the mental picture I had of a soldier seemed almost opposite of my dad. But, the facts don't lie. His Marine picture sat on our shelf. The Marine Corps memorabilia was all over the house. There was the Purple Heart pins, the old patches and awards. The newspaper clippings. And there was his hand.

Any time I doubted, I just had to look at his hand. When he landed in Korea, he got there in the summer. As he said, "When I got there, it was so hot that the jeeps wouldn't run right because they overheated. When I left, it was so cold the jeeps wouldn't run right because they froze up." He landed at the Pusan Perimeter, when the South Korean forces were about to be run into the ocean. As the US assisted Korean forces, they marched further and further North, finally crossing into China. At the battle for the Chosin Reservoir, the Marines found themselves fighting both North Korean and Chinese forces. They were outnumbered at least 8 to 1. This is where my father was wounded. In the extreme cold, he was shot in the hand. The below freezing temperatures quickly affected his fingers. By the time he got to a surgeon, he had to have the top joint of each finger amputated.

So he had this hand without fingernails, just nubs on the top. There were some things that he had trouble doing - like opening some bottles and packages. But there was a constant testimony of just how great his sacrifice was. I was proud of that hand. I was proud of what he had done. My father had answered the call and put himself on the line for others. I'm not sure why that was such a big deal to me. Maybe it was because that valiant quality was not very obvious by the time I came along. He wasn't a man who defended the weak or protected others. In fact, there were many times when he took advantage of the weak and failed to protect those very people he should have. He wasn't a hero - but he had been once upon a time.

That is the thing about soldiers. They are just ordinary people. And they are asked to perform in a way that is the exact opposite of how a normal person lives. Instead of fleeing danger, they are supposed to go towards it and neutralize it. Instead of putting their own interests and survival first, they are supposed to defend nameless faces at their own risk. We are told not to allow violence to run our lives, but they have to live a violent life. We are told not to fight, but they have to fight every day. We are told not to kill, but they must accept that killing is a fact of their mission. They have to put their own lives on hold so we don't have to.

I have friends that are serving right now. A man that was a student at USF when I worked there is now a chaplain overseas. His wife is expecting their second child next week. He won't be home until the baby is a month old. A woman that was a student at USF when I worked there is now serving in the Army in the Middle East. Her husband, another former student, is living alone down in Melbourne, FL while she serves. Another former student has watched his father pulled into Reserve Duty as a logistics officer. What was once a "one weekend a month" position is now a "going on eight years" job.

I couldn't do it. I know I couldn't. That is why I admire them so. They do what I can't and won't - and they do it so I don't have to. They fight for me, protecting what I hold so dear. Whether or not you agree with the US presence anywhere in the world, you have to appreciate what our soldiers do each day. And as we found out in Fort Hood last week, being a soldier doesn't mean you are only in danger when deployed. Being a soldier means you are always a target - a representative of our country. You take a risk every day.

So what do we do on Veteran's Day and Memorial Day and July 4? I think that we need to make a special effort on those days to go out of our way to make those who served feel special. I wrote emails and Facebook posts this morning, thanking those serving. Make sure your kids understand exactly what today means. My kids know that today we pray for those who are fighting. They know about our friends overseas and ask about them. They draw pictures for them and pray for them. But we do that all the time. I point out soldiers (and police officers) to the kids and tell them we should thank them. I remember when I worked at Apple and we had a military person come in. I would always thank them - and make sure they got the military discount even if they didn't ask for it. They were always kind of surprised. But I did it every time, because they deserve it.

It is kind of like how we should be thankful every day, but on Thanksgiving make a very visible and vocal demonstration of our thanks. I think that is how we should be with our fighting men and women. Every day we should be appreciative. But on those few special days, go out of your way. Pay for their dinner if you see them in a restaurant. Applaud them when you see them. Send them a card or an email. How would you treat a person who saved your life, especially on the anniversary of the day it happened? Maybe that would be a good start. Because they did, you know. They saved your life and are saving it every day.

John Scanlon. Heather Schmidt. Glen Kitzman. Matthew Creviston. Buddy Joca. Stephen Orf. Cobie Lee. Jack Stultz. Mark Flach. Sherri Flach. Kevin Sheridan. Larry Cortez. Steve Vaughan. Sam Glenn. Scott Evans. Stanley Puckett. Dad. And any other that I don't remember or know right now. Thank you so much for all you have done and are doing. One day doesn't seem like enough to say that.

Nov 9, 2009


You know how sometimes something just sits there in the base of your brain for months? And out of nowhere a minor event just kind of triggers it to become a big issue? That's kind of what I'm dealing with right now with the "New Media." I'm not sure if all of you know what I'm talking about. Over the last few years, the Old Media (newspapers, television news) has slowly been giving way to New Media (bloggers, social networking, YouTube, live news updates via twitter). We have seen major news outlets just shut down, due to their eroding readership and income.

What has stepped into that void is the New Media. They have become the de facto news source for many people. For a large number, this is an upgrade since this new source is more "honest" and less restrained by corporate influence or political bias. It is more relatable since it is not written by stuffy academics who don't live in the real world. On the flip side, this New Media also has virtually no accountability at all. You can say whatever you want in a blog or on a facebook post and no one can do anything about it. If you pulled that stuff in a newspaper or on a news broadcast, you would get sued for libel.

So, now TMZ is considered a legitimate news source, frequently quoted by mainstream news outlets. It, in reality, is a gossip site. But they have tons of contributors, so they can get places that ABC can't. They also can accuse people of all kinds of stuff that isn't verified, since they aren't "mainstream media." Take the Carrie Prejean case - the former Miss California whose personal religious beliefs came under fire by Perez Hilton (another New Media maven). She has gone rounds with the Miss USA group, swapping lawsuits. Last week, all the lawsuits were mysteriously settled. No one knew what exactly caused the quick settlement, until TMZ announced it was the appearance of a sex tape of Prejean. Everyone went, "Oh, okay. Now we understand." Every single story I saw mentioned how TMZ verified the tape's existence. When did TMZ become a legitimate source? They also played the same role when Erin Andrews of ESPN was victim of a peeping tom this summer - verifying the tape.

So there is now this parasitic relationship between Old Media and New Media. The traditional sources of news are relying on the newer ones frequently for news and verification of stories. They also know that many younger people actually trust TMZ more than CBS - or believe Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert over Brian Williams of NBC. [Most young people have no clue that the larger players in "New Media" are owned by "Old Media" companies, anyway. Fox owns MySpace. Google owns YouTube. NBC owns Hulu.]

Here's my problem. Bias is always going to exist in media. You cannot report a story without your perspective playing a part. And all news outlets play the "yellow journalism" game every day - playing up shocking stories over boring stories. Take a look at some time. They always push the more scintillating stories up the chart. Why? Money. They get paid by advertisers for clicks. And there is more money in clicks on pages further into a website. CNN may get 5 cents for an ad view on page one, but get 20 cents for an ad view three levels in. So they want to drive people further into their site. So they push the crazy stories. All websites do this. It's how newspapers ran for decades - push the big nutty story because people want to read it.

Well, in New Media, there is a different bias also prevalent. It is viciousness. There is an ugly edge to these sites. Some of it is that they writers and editors are people who were shunned by mainstream media sources. Maybe they weren't good enough or popular enough. Maybe the didn't get hired, or they didn't get the degree they needed. Now they are going to take it out on the big dogs. They are relentless in their criticism of people in leadership or in the public eye. But it isn't just criticism trying to make change. It is just vicious attacks - lashing out to hurt or to make the attacker feel better. And it even happens when one of these New Media types reaches a level of success - they become targets as well. Every movie, book, television show, comic book, album that comes out faces acerbic commentary. Entertainers have to deal with dozens of sites ripping into them in a mean-spirited fashion. If I had to come up with one word for the tone of the Internet, it would be sardonic -- bitterly and mockingly sarcastic.

One example is This is a site that is supposed to "cover sports coverage." It was created to talk about the sports coverage out there - like ESPN, CBS, etc. The site, first of all, is owned by Gawker Media - which also owns a lot of very unsavory sites. But it has a very nasty edge to it. A couple weeks ago, ESPN personality Steve Phillips found himself in a big problem where his mistress went psycho and told his wife that they were together. When Deadspin confronted ESPN to validate the rumor, the Worldwide Leader denied everything. Then it hit the newspapers everywhere. Deadspin got furious at ESPN for withholding info. So they went into attack mode - and they started airing unsubstantiated rumors about multiple ESPN personalities and executives. They outed affairs and behaviors. All because they got scooped on a story.

How is that responsible? How can that level of viciousness be okay for a "news outlet." Deadspin hides behind the fact that they are a glorified blog. But shouldn't there be some responsibility? Another example is with Bill Simmons - ESPN's most popular writer. Simmons himself circumvented the usual process of getting hired. He started his own sports blog in Boston. Finally, he got to be so popular that ESPN hired him. Now he is a massively successful writer and media person. His articles get more hits than any other sportswriter. His podcast is the most listened to sports podcast in America. He just wrote a second book - The Book of Basketball - that hit #1 on the New York Times Nonfiction chart. He has reached a level of huge success. Instead of being happy for him - a regular guy who made good - he has become a major target of places like Deadspin and bloggers everywhere. They relentlessly ridicule him. They slam his characteristic writing style. They rip into his love for Boston sports. Personally, I think it is because they are all jealous.

I like Simmons. He is one of my writers that I read all the time. I bought his book the week it came out and I love it. It is a very thorough and entertaining look at basketball. But he gets ripped constantly about his book signings or his "selling out" or his opinions. I don't like everything he writes - his morals and mine are light years apart. And, sure, I think he is a little hung up on himself. But this is a guy who worked hard and made his dream come true. He's doing well and creating very enjoyable stuff. So, naturally, he deserves to be tormented and hated.

I write a blog (actually I have three). I use Facebook and Twitter. You could say I am a "New Media" member, since I don't have a journalism degree but still write my opinions out there. I write books for Defender Ministries, even though they are not put out by a mainstream publisher. I hope to circumvent some of the traditional methods for a writer - especially a religious writer. But I hope I never reduce myself to the level where I would be so vicious and hateful. I try hard to make sure I don't go over the top. Yes, I have written things in my blogs that I would never say to someone's face - like Michael Vick, Alex Rodriguez, Billy Donovan, Ronald McDonald. I just don't think I have ever been vicious out of jealousy or spite. And, quite frankly, I can't stand reading things with that bent. I fear that this mentality is only going to get worse. The more popular these sites become, the more they are validated. Unfortunately, that means the mindset becomes acceptable as well. It doesn't make for a pleasant or beneficial experience for anyone.

Oct 29, 2009

Nearly as Good as I Hoped, Much Greater Than I Feared

As parents, we want to protect our little chickadees. We want to shelter them from danger and harm. We calm their fears of darkness and monsters and vegetables - all while being terrified of the unknown and the boogie man and the bank. One one hand, we know the horrible things that are out there. Things like the tragic story of Somer Thompson near Jacksonville, FL. Some random psycho strikes and she's gone. (That story hit close to home, not just because of her age. It happened in Heather's hometown and her home church was deeply involved in the recovery process.) We are all too aware of those real monsters. But we also don't know a lot. I think that may be what is even more scary. We want everything to be laid out before us, with our little brood safe and secure. But remember, when Marlin asked Dory, "How do you know nothing bad will happen?" - she classically responded, "I DON'T!"

We don't know that. But we have to move on anyway. The education of our children is one of these "Unknown Terrors" for our family. On one hand, there are some amazing experiences that a child can have going through public school. I went to public school grade 5 and 7 through 12. Heather went to public school her whole life. We made it through. BUT..... There is that but, the fear, the doubt, the unknown. There are some really rotten things that happen in public schools, too. Josiah's first experience last year was terrible - potentially damaging enough that we pulled him out and enrolled him where I was teaching. We hear rumors of all kinds of things happening in the cafeteria or the playground or library. How do we know the experience will be great? That nothing bad will happen? We Don't.

Today, our kids made it to school - after a false start thanks to the plague affecting our house. I wanted everything to go perfect. We got there and met the kids' teachers. They were both very sweet women and we felt like we were placing our kids in good hands. The school is very well run and organized at least (as far as we can tell). The woman working the cafeteria line was very helpful, explaining the process to us. Then she also took care of the kids when they came through. After debriefing the children when they got home, they both had lots of fun things to report. Josiah had a fun art class that sounded like he really enjoyed. They both had recess on the big playground. Both kids met a lot of kids. Natalie made a point to tell me that there were very few with "light skin." (I had tried to gently prepare them for this because every school they have been at have been the exact opposite. It wasn't because this is a bad situation - just very different and a new opportunity.)

Natalie went to the library and got a Curious George book, but she thought she had forgotten it at school. (It was in her bag.) Both of them got to use the computer. They had a great time buying lunch. Things were going great! Then the phone rang...

Yeah, my phone rang. "FLORIDA STATE O" There is no way THAT is good. I assumed it was something regarding Heather. Maybe she had to call from a school phone for something simple. I answered. "Hello, this is David." Quiet. "Hello?" Maybe it was a salesperson or survey monkey. Finally a softer lady's voice came through. "Mr Staples? This is Mrs. Williams. Josiah's teacher." What . . . the . . . what. Getting phone calls from school is never good. What could have happened on his first day?

It turns out that they give new students evaluation assessments to see which reading and math group they belong in. Mrs. Williams had told us this. As he was taking the math exam he just lost it. She said he started crying and saying he hated school and hated math. He wanted to go home and didn't want to be there. She was blindsided. She tried comforting him and explaining about the test and that he didn't have to get them all right. Didn't help. So, being the brilliant and wonderful teacher she is, she called me to see if there was something going on. I was stunned. I had seen the meltdown during math before. But I was more surprised by the teacher's response. She said, "There is no way I'm going to let him have a bad first day."

I briefed her on the death plague experience. The kids had just gotten their fevers down for 24 hours last night. They still had a cough and I know they were tired. (They both complained about how long the day way.) I also told her a bit about Josiah. He's a very smart kid. He is a perfectionist and hates missing questions. He HATES timed tests. (This one wasn't.) And, at times, he can be flummoxed by easy math questions while acing ones above his grade level. I asked if maybe I could talk to him. "Sure." Wow.

I talked to him and tried to reassure him. Just do your best, leave ones empty if you don't know them, this isn't graded or timed. He said that some of the questions were so hard. I said it was okay and that he didn't have to get them if they were too hard. He lost it again. [When he got home, he also told me that it had been a long day and he missed me. Tears.] She had other students come and help get him tissues and help him to his seat. I can tell the kind of classroom she runs - it is a place of love and support. I was embarrassed, of course. She assured me not to worry and said he could take the tests Monday. That would give him time to get a little more acclimated and healthier. I thanked her profusely. I explained that in Josiah's first experience, there was no way that would have happened. Josiah even told me that when he got home. What a wonderful gift for a teacher to give her children - a safe and caring learning environment where even on their worst day they don't get shunned or ridiculed or mistreated.

So, even while I wanted to race down the street and grab my baby boy and hug him until his eyes got all googly like in a cartoon, I knew he was in good hands. Sure, I would have liked the day to go perfectly. I wanted Day One to be something glorious and golden to point to as we said, "IT WAS THE RIGHT THING TO DO!!!" (I saw us prancing around wearing togas and laurels in a coliseum as I wrote that.) But there was that issue. Josiah didn't want to be outside during recess because it was hot. So he just sat at the end of the slide by himself. And Nat's shoes got untied and she can't tie them yet - and her teacher didn't help. And Nat inadvertently got tired of a girl who was desperately trying to be friends. "I couldn't take it any more. So I had to go away." (We explained that the girl was trying to be friends. Nat responded, "Oh. I'll tell her I'm sorry tomorrow.") Nat said that the teacher at one point said if anyone said anything they would get sent out. A little boy said "something little, not even a word" and got the promised consequence. We asked if the class was being naughty at this point. "Yes. But I wasn't following them." GO NAT!

So there were some minor glitches. But for the most part, it was a good day. In one class, I learned my son had a protector and educator who had his best interests at heart. And in the other, I learned again just how tough my little girl is - and how she is going to do just fine. Now if we can just get rid of the death plague around here....

Oct 27, 2009

Gabe In a New Light

First of all, for those of you waiting with great anticipation for my report on how Overeater's Anonymous went, you probably will have to wait another week. I"m not bailing. I got sick the other day and it still has me knocked for a loop. This morning I was feeling some better, so I went and did some basic upkeep. I fed the kids, got them juice, took the trash out, minor stuff like that. That about did it. So I'm back in my chair, where I've spent the majority of the last two days. I alternate between sweating and freezing.

But, I'm not alone. All the kids are sick too. You have to understand, this is really strange for us. We are very blessed that our kids do not get sick very often. In fact, with the exception of the food poisoning incident at Woody's this summer, the kids have not been ill since early Spring. They have really good immune systems, I guess. But this one has gotten everyone in the house. (Heather had it last week - even had to miss a quiz at school.)

The really interesting thing that I have seen through this illness is just how sweet Gabe is. I'm sure some people may think he is a little high maintenance. Until our current church, he has never liked church nursery. He co-sleeps. He wants his television shows on whenever he wants them. He's two. But, through this little bout of illness, I have seen a different side to Gabe. He's sick too. He had a fever yesterday and he has a cough just like everyone else - maybe not as bad. But he really hasn't been acting that different. I said yesterday, "He's the happiest most active sick two year old I've ever seen." But then I realized he is acting different.

This morning the older kids were both laying on the couch, watching television. They are both still pretty wiped out and not up to doing much. Gabe slept until 8:45, which is very rare for him. And when he woke up, he didn't demand Blues Clues or Yo Gabba Gabba like usual. He came out and just sat in the chair and chilled out. He drank his drink, ate his waffle sandwich, played with his blocks. Finally, he wanted to watch shows. Instead of coming with the remote and begging like normal, he pointed back to my room (the only other room with a TV) and asked to watch it back there. I was kind of surprised. He never asks for that. We sometimes make him, when other people are already using the main TV. But it was almost like he knew that the kids needed to be out here.

It all clicked in place. He's been really easy going for two days. He didn't crawl all over me yesterday. He didn't pitch a fit to take his nap. He just did his thing and was surprisingly accommodating. (It was a little different story once Heather got home, of course.) All the kids adore each other. They cry when another one gets hurt or cries. They help each other and share very well. Just look at how happy they were to share the illness with each other! It is neat to see those qualities develop as they grow up. Sometimes you aren't really aware of some of your kids' qualities until a trying time brings it to the surface.

Oct 23, 2009


Over the years of being employed at churches, I have had the pleasure to work with some truly amazing people. (Yes, I also have worked with some real pains. That's a different post.) One of the most wonderful people I had the joy to serve with was Vince Manna. He and his wife, Holly, both worked at First Baptist Oviedo with me. Vince was one of the most genuine, passionate, encouraging people you ever would meet. He was in charge of helping new members get acclimated to the church. But over the years it became apparent he also loved mission trips. Eventually, planning mission trips and overseeing the mission efforts of the church became a huge part of his job description. Truly, this was a perfect match. Vince and missions - one of those all-too-rare examples of a man working in the dead center of his skill set and passion.

He loved talking to missionaries from all over the world. And he tried to learn things about different countries and cultures. I saw the excitement on his face when he would be able to share some of these discoveries with others. Vince and I had a great relationship. We had our usual disagreements on minor issues - just like you would with anyone. I considered Vince one of my better friends and a real treasure to the staff. He had a great sense of humor, which I appreciated. And he could dish it out, if necessary. But he never was cruel.

One day, I was walking down the hall and he was popping out of his office. He saw me and lit up. He tossed his hand up in the air to wave, got a big grin on his face, and said loud enough for everyone to hear, "JUMBO!!!" I was kind of taken aback. What did he just say? Did he just call me Jumbo? What kind of jerk is he being? I can't believe that he would just call me "Hey big fat guy!" in front of everyone. "What did you say?" I must have looked a big upset or confused. His demeanor changed and he explained, "That's how they say hello in Swahili. Jambo. Oh no! You thought I said Jumbo, like big." Then he laughed his butt off. And for the next couple years, as is typical for guys, he poked fun at me about that. That's what guys do.

I tell that story to lead into this. When you are offended by the traditional greeting of an entire people group, maybe you need to examine some things. The other day I weighed 352 pounds. It is not that I was shocked by that number. It isn't the worst I've been. It sure isn't the best. I hover around that number. And, truthfully, I may have actually lost a few pounds. I'm not sure. I know, this is where the women start grumbling about guys losing weight so easily. Let me just explain something. If you have 352 marbles, it is easy to lose 5 marbles. They could roll under the couch or fall down the toilet. If you only have 100 or 125 marbles, you are more careful with your marbles. It is more noticeable when you lose 5 marbles. The guy with 352 marbles doesn't notice until he loses 20 or 50 marbles.

Anyway, weight issues have plagued my life. I always say that it easy to see which kid was me in baby pictures - I was drawn with all circles. I have always been round. I was one of the tallest and biggest kids in my class all the way back to Kindergarten. I remember all through elementary pulling at my shirts so they wouldn't be so tight across my belly. My shirts still bear the telltale signs of this behavior - stretched out button holes, pull points on the front. As years have rolled by, I have continued to get larger - it kind of was a foregone conclusion. You just keep buying bigger clothes. I have also developed an unhealthy relationship with food. There is a level of emotional dependence and addiction that had become a part of my life.

This is one of the things that is extremely frustrating to me. Fat people are treated differently. They are seen as lazy and self-destructive. Now it is being painted in the news and in health circles that they are personally responsible for destroying the economy and health insurance industries. When do you see an overweight person portrayed in a positive light? They play the buffoon or the lazy bum in movies and shows. I think that a lot of this is due to public perception that fat people are in this quandary thanks to a lifetime of poor choices. And, it is also believed that they can escape this problem with discipline and just "not eating so much." As any fat person will attest, this is not true.

I spend a lot of time working on issues of addiction. My ministry deals with it on a regular basis. I have read books about addiction - I've even written a Bible study on it that we taught at a conference. My father was an alcoholic - and probably a gambling addict and food addict and nicotine addict. Several in my extended family have battled various addictions. I am currently finishing a wonderful book that deals with men and addiction called Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin. One of the thing that jumps out at me when you compare food addiction to any other addiction is that most addictions begin at some point with a choice by the addict to start the process. They go in the door and then get lost in the house. But at the very beginning, they open the door and go in. It may be that they drink that first beer at a party at Brian's house or they take that first hit behind the football stadium or they look at the first porn magazine in their friend's room. But there is an initial decision. AND, the other major difference is that, despite what they believe at that point, they CAN live without the addictive object.

With a food addiction, you can't live without food. You have to eat. And you don't really choose to develop a problem. I don't remember at any point sitting down and wrestling with whether or not to eat a cookie, which set me off on a spiral towards the point where I wake up in the gutter covered with crumbs and empty Hydrox packages. I wasn't any different than any other kid. We all ate cookies. They gave us cookies in school. I remember one event in first grade where all the parents helped make food from other countries - mostly desserts and pastries. We also had a Thanksgiving feast out on the recess field where we had all kinds of goodies. (My mom made a lattice blueberry pie, thereby ruining 90% of all blueberry pies forever for me.) We weren't allowed to have sodas, except for with certain meals or on special occasions. I remember loving New Year's Day because I could have Wink soda and eat in the TV room.

We had a "clean your plate" policy at our house. You were supposed to eat everything on your plate - if you liked it or not. We didn't want to be wasteful with food. I still battle this now, feeling bad tossing part of my kids' food when they get full. We didn't sit there and eat fried foods all the time. My mom rarely fried anything - once in a while we would have fried chicken or french fries. We had a normal roster of dinners. Baked chicken, cubed steak, turkey, hamburgers, pizza, spaghetti, tacos, pork chops, roasts, stews, soups. We never had rich casseroles because my dad hated casseroles. We didn't eat big salads and poached chicken every meal, but I refuse to believe that is what everyone does. I have always been a bit baffled by the whole weight thing to some extent, because for most of my life I have not eaten any worse than anyone else - and I have not eaten more than other people. In fact my friends usually comment how I eat less than a lot of people. My brother was always thin. He would take out an entire bag of Doritos each night. He put bleu cheese dressing on everything. He never gained a pound. I never did those things and gained weight all the time. I don't mainline candy. If I get candy, I usually nurse it along for weeks (unless driving on a long trip).

I am not sure what triggered everything. Was it that we usually had pizza on Friday and hamburgers on Saturday? Fun foods on fun days? I don't know. But I became drawn to those types of food. I love pizza, lasagna, cheeseburgers, mexican food, Italian food. I would eat those all the time if I could. They are "fun food" to me. And I tend to drift towards those foods when I'm down or had a bad day. Eating out only was on a special occasion. So if you eat out every day, every day is a special occasion. Dessert was always fun and made you feel good. I understand a lot of this better now: the release of endorphins from chocolate, neural pathways that are built to release pleasure chemicals, learned association.

There was a stretch of maybe six or seven years where I hung out with a bunch of college students. I was a student myself, and then a young single guy working with college students. I ate like a college student. Lots of cheap, pre-packaged food. Fast food joints all the time. I ate so much pizza it is a miracle that I still like it. And then we discovered buffets. Breakfast buffet at Shoney's. Lunch buffet at Pizza Hut, Cici's, and Vallarto's. Dinner buffet at China Jade. Dangerous places. I gained some weight, but not as much as you think. The last explosion of weight actually happened after I gave up those habits. That's even more baffling - although my life became more sedentary after having kids and when I took a job as a desk jockey.

I can start a diet tomorrow and make it work - for a while. I started Weight Watchers a few years ago. I lost fifty pounds in four months. And then put it back on by the end of the year. A few years later, I decided that I really needed to avoid certain foods instead of "dieting." I lost thirty pounds. And then I put it back on. I lost fifty pounds working at Rhodes Furniture - but gained it back before I quit there. I can diet. But that doesn't do anything. It just shows you how to manage your poor food intake. As I've read the Pirate Monks book, I picked up on some things that have really made this clear. I guess one of the tenets of AA is that "abstinence is not the same thing as sobriety." Forgoing something is a great first step. But the mindset is what needs to change.

I have all the classic symptoms of an addict when it comes to food. I can't imagine my life without the object. I get angry when I think of going without pizza or soda. I have tried to quit so many times. I have hundreds of excuses for why I can't do it. And I'm a loner when it comes to fighting. I don't want help. I don't want praise for doing it right. I don't want "you can do it" messages from friends. Because if they buy their way in with the positive, that gives them the right to criticize when I mess up. I hate it - just get boiling angry - when I'm eating with a friend who knows about my weight battle and he makes a comment about what I ordered. That means that someone else noticed, I guess. (Of course other people notice. I make people in my row in airlines and in arenas cringe when I walk up.) I have learned to cope by poking fun at myself. But it merely hides the fact that I hate myself. I hate how I look. I hate my weakness. I hate my failure. And I hate that I want to go eat pie right now. I'm not happy when my friends lose weight. A part of me want to be, but a bigger part is mad because it shows how I am a failure . . . AGAIN. I have friends who are doing great with their weight struggles. "That's great," I say to their face. Inside I'm like, "Yeah, great. I should send them a fruit basket. Wait, that will help them. I'll get the fruit covered in chocolate. NO. Better yet, a ham basket."

I have tried every motivational tactic that I can imagine. I tell myself that I'll be more attractive if I am not so enormous. My wife will like it better if I am not so fat. Sex would be better. I would be able to play with my kids without needing oxygen. I would be able to live long enough to see them graduate, get married, have kids. My dad died before I got married, had kids, started my ministry. I should know how hard that is. He had diabetes. Heart disease and high blood pressure run through both sides of my family. Being thinner would help me professionally, since people don't respect fat people. I have a hundred, a thousand reasons to lose weight. But for each one, I have irrational and stupid reasons that seem logical at the time that stop me. Most of all, I have fear.

I am afraid that I will fail. I am afraid of giving up certain foods. I am afraid of what would happen if I succeeded. And what if I succeeded and THEN failed again? Fear has derailed me so many times. And it continues to relentlessly attack. I was afraid of writing this. I was afraid of what people would think, of what comments they would leave. I was afraid of their suggestions and encouragements - maybe even more so than their criticisms. I can't keep living like this. And, quite frankly, I won't keep living like this. Eventually, living like this will kill you. For some reason, all of this clicked into place this week. Maybe it was the book. Maybe God, Who mercifully pursues me all the time even when I ignore Him, finally broke through my thick skull and hit the chewy nougat inside.

On Tuesday night, I am going to do something that I cannot believe I am doing. The very thought of it terrifies me to my soul. I am going to go to an Overeaters Anonymous meeting at 7:30pm at a church in town. I have no clue what to expect. I don't know if this is even the best option. I just know I need to try a different tactic. I need to address the reasons why I do what I do instead of just getting frustrated by failing. Why do I fail? What is the root of this destructive behavior? How can I fight that? So I am going to try OA. So pray for me. Remember me on Tuesday. I want to say I'll keep everyone updated. I know my tendency is to keep my latest battle quiet so the failure is also quiet. That's not healthy. To win this, I have to have others around me. Maybe I'll get to the point where Jambo is just a greeting and not a name.

Oct 11, 2009

U2 for 200

We here at David Staples' Blogville know a special occasion when it comes. And we will celebrate it right. This is our 200th post. It took us 32 months to write the first 100. And it took 26 months for the next 100. (The first 100 also was padded by a lot of travel diaries, which have not been as frequent in the last two years.) Well, either way, it is a big reason for celebration. 200 posts. That is a LOT of blathering and bloviating.

So what are we going to do for our 200th post? Well, we pulled out all the stops, spared no expense. Sure, things are tight financially nowadays. But you, our faithful or accidental reader, are certainly worth it. So we booked Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL and we brought in none other than U2 for a very special concert. Sure, they thought it was just part of their 360 Tour. They didn't realize that it actually was to commemorate a truly epic blog post.

Seriously, though. I had the great fortune of being able to attend the U2 concert in Tampa on Thursday night. Thanks to my very generous and loving in-laws, I was able to secure two tickets for my birthday back in April. Then I sat for six months and waited. I invited my very dear friend, and fellow blogger, Greg Ramer to go with me. As the event grew closer, my dear wife, Heather, and her parents agreed to work things out so I could actually leave on Thursday evening and come back on Saturday - giving me a guy's weekend away. I documented the gastronomical experiences of the trip in my last post. This post is all about the concert.

I am not a concert goer. (Greg is a concert goer, which is one of the reasons I chose him to go with me.) I mean, I detest concerts. They combine all the things I don't like in life. Huge crowds, loud noise, bad traffic, overpriced t-shirts I can't fit into, drunk people, narrow seats. Not my idea of a good time. I am pretty sure I can remember every concert I've been to.
  • Mark Farner - I have no clue how I ended up here. And I was in elementary too.
  • David Meece
  • Newsong at youth camp
  • Night of Joy at Disney - I think Michael W Smith and dcTalk were there, but I cared more about riding the rides, honestly.
  • Grad Night at Disney - I don't even have the foggiest idea who was there.
  • The Waiting at UCF.
  • Night of Joy Knockoff at Busch Gardens - again, not sure I remember. I know Tammy Trent was there. Maybe Big Tent Revival and Third Day.
  • College Ministry Conference in Athens, GA - Big Tent Revival and Third Day performed
  • dcTalk with the W's and Jennifer Knapp
  • Newsboys with the Waiting and Third Day
  • Avalon with Anointed and Nicole Nordeman
  • Worked the Merchandise table at 4Him and Big Tent Revival concert
  • Worked security at Bob Carlisle and Sierra concert
  • The Wiggles
That's it. Impressive, huh? Some of you may not even recognize the groups I listed. I never went to a homecoming concert at UCF as a student or USF as staff. I lived in Orlando for a grand total of 12 years and have bypassed just about every band I have every wanted to think about seeing (Michael Buble, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Daughtry, Billy Joel, Dora the Explorer). But there was one band that I would have jumped at seeing if I could have made it happen. And that band was U2.

I was nervous when we got ready to go. I was worried about the traffic, the parking, the walking, the opening act (Muse - didn't know them but had heard good things). And I think I was the most nervous about the worst thing possible - that U2 would actually stink. After the live performances on Saturday Night Live and Letterman, I was getting really worried about this. I had been wanting to go to a U2 concert for literally decades. They couldn't have lost it before I got a chance to go, could they.

I walked into the stadium and when we came through the tunnel into our section, the stage suddenly appeared. Take a second and check out these pictures. You have no idea just how imposing this thing is. You are in a freaking football stadium - a HUGE place that I have been for games many times. And it looks like a giant spaceship landed right in the middle. The spire at the top was actually taller than the stadium. We found our seats. Thanks to the video screens and the way the concerts were planned, every seat was a good one. And our actually were amazing, looking right down on everything.

Despite my fears, we arrived on time. As we settled into our seats we kind of looked around at the stadium. It was MAYBE half full. Three minutes after we sat, Muse came out. (Perfect timing on our part.) I had no idea what to expect. I had heard a lot of people say good things - including some people I really respect raving about their lyrics. I couldn't understand what they were singing really well, but the band was really good. The music was pretty cool - a style I could get into. And they definitely had a great performance. After about 45 minutes, they headed out and the crew set to changing over the stage. The stadium started filling up. I was surprised how many people waited until 8:30 to come - wanting to just see U2. (And, some people left after watching Muse. Bizarre.)

At 8:45, the stage kicked to life and you heard, "Ground Control to Major Tom..." The crowd went crazy. The whole song played and then the lights kicked off with the video screen showing green lighted dials. Larry Mullen came out, followed by Adam Clayton, the Edge, and then Bono - with each entry causing louder and louder cheers. They launched with one of my favorite songs off the new album - "Breathe" - and for the next two hours we were treated to consummate showmen pouring their considerable talent all over the stadium.

The stage is amazing - the screens hanging down help every seat to see exactly what is going on down on the field. But they do more than that - they show videos, display color patterns and graphic elements. The screen also slides up and down from the top down to the stage. And, in a surprise twist to me, the screen also spread apart and dropped down like a chandelier - covering from the top of the spaceship down to the stage itself. Then they started projecting the video onto the new elongated screen. A friend of mine said she sat there with her mouth open for two straight songs - amazed at the technology she was seeing.

The concert itself was just incredible. Sure, I noticed that Bono's voice is taking a beating. He spoke/sang several songs. He let the crowd sing through certain parts. The Edge covered a lot of the falsetto work. The heat also did a number on the band - they were downing water non-stop. But that didn't stop the showmanship. There was a interview with a guy in space. Bono brought a young person up on the stage, ran around the giant circle with him, sang with him, gave him his sunglasses. There were surprise song snippets - "Amazing Grace," "Stand By Me," "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." There was a lot of social awareness efforts - for Africa, for the environment, for oppressed women, for the imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, the ONE campaign.

What really left an impression on me was the experience of it all. There were 72,000 people singing, dancing, cheering in unison. These were people of all ethnic backgrounds, ages, socioeconomic background, languages. I chatted with the guy next to me off and on. He was Irish, married to a Latin woman, and they had two elementary daughters with them. When some of the bigger songs ("One," "With or Without You") were played, the entire crowd in unison just sang out - sometimes drowning out the band. I had heard these songs before. I have watched U2 concert videos and heard concert CDs. But I was not prepared for the experience of being a part of such a throng. Honestly, I thought, "Well this is a small sample of what Heaven will be like."

That was one of the weirdest things to both me and Greg. It was a worshipful experience. Tim Ellis is an extremely gifted music minister and friend of mine. We once had a discussion about how he thought all music is worship - the difference is what the target of the worship is. Lots of people last night were worshipping. Some were worshipping U2, others were directing it at the entertainment and social element of the night. I actually found myself worshipping God. So many of U2's songs have a deep religious vein running through them ("Yahweh," "40," "With or Without You"). That is one of the things that has long drawn me to their music. And I found myself last night being drawn in - praying for the victims portrayed on the screen, for the band, for Bono's voice. (I actually found myself sad at times that the church has so little to offer people that can come close to competing. But that's a different post.) When I walked out, Greg and I talked about how it had strongly affected us both in the same way.

And beyond the deep religious thoughts, the music just stinking rocked. I am amazed how a band can come up with so many different variations of a song. My absolute favorite song on the newest album is "Crazy Tonight." They performed it with strong African and dance themes. Larry Mullen actually played a set of bongos walking around the stage. They did an acoustic version of "Stuck in a Moment" - which I think is the only way that song should be played. They were funny and thoughtful and gracious to their fans. I am glad that I went. I would honestly rank it as one of the most fun and entertaining things I've ever done (you know, excluding marriage and childbirth and child creation - huh?). It was a powerful, entertaining, wonderful night. I still don't have a desire to go to concerts - aside from people I know (Chris and Conrad - November 7 in Tally) or performers I absolutely love (Jim Gaffigan - October 30 in Tally). But I would go to another U2 concert in a heartbeat.