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.