Monthly Archives: February 2008

This and That

  • Yesterday one of Pam’s tax clients brought her flowers. She said, “Today is the anniversary of my husband’s death seven years ago. On this day I always buy myself flowers, and I thought I’d get some for you, too.” Neat.
  • I’m working feverishly on designing a new website. Incorporating a lot of social-media type of features. This stuff always energizes me.
  • I kinda feel sorry for Hillary. She was the hands-down nominee, but got upended by a freak of nature, a historic phenomenon that happens rarely–the Obama express. She’s got the experience, the mastery of details, the connections, the money…but along comes this irresistible force.
  • Karl Rove is pure evil. There are many evidences of it, the most recent being this situation involving the former Alabama governor who now sits in jail for seven years. Destroying people is a game for him. Without conscience.
  • Just finished Marketing to the Social Web. A really good treatment of the Web 2.0 world.
  • I love “Morning Joe” on MSNBC. They get all the stars, and more, that Don Imus once got in that same time slot. But without the crudeness.
  • I’ve not been following college basketball this year. I’ll watch the tournament–of course!!–but I’m not gonna bother doing brackets.

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My Morning at Fishhook

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A week ago, I attended a Communications Roundtable in Indianapolis. They meet every month or two, mostly people on staff at megachurches. Evan McBroom and his firm, Fishhook, sponsor this thing. I’ve been trying to attend since last fall, and it finally worked out.

We met at the cozy Fishhook office just off Meridian a bit north of the 465 bypass. Jenn Stump from Fishhook led an informal and informative session on “Simplicity in Design.” It was fun hearing people from local churches talk about how they apply good design in their work. This was a quality group of communications professionals. Well worth the two-hour drive for me. Especially since my lot in life is, basically, to work alone with nobody around able to “talk shop” with me.

The photo shows the group, sans Jenn. I’m second from the right. Also missing is Evan McBroom, Fishhook’s big cahuna, who was speaking in Chicago at something or other. But he left us in the hands of the very friendly and talented Fishhook team.

I’m shamelessly using this photo without permission, confident that if I link to Fishhook repeatedly, and describe the firm as an outstanding communications and creative services company focused on serving religious groups, that Evan and Co. won’t mind.

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The Roots of My Piano Playing

This morning we sang the hymn “Stand Up for Jesus.” That hymn takes me back to the summer after my freshman year of high school and to a 76-year-old Aussie named Gordon Hooker. Hooker taught piano at Biola University, and played piano at the Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles. He also taught me.

I took 3.5 years of traditional piano lessons in Pennsylvania, but when we moved to Arizona, I went two years without a piano teacher. Well, actually there was Mrs. Van L, from whom I took lessons for six weeks. She started me on the Blue Danube Waltz, and each week, because I would misplay something, she reassigned it. Finally, on the last week, I played it flawlessly. When I finished, she said, “Let’s do it one more week, just in case you ever need to play it for a recital.” I never went back.

Dad was taking courses at Pepperdine and Biola that summer, renting a converted garage from a Biola professor, whose name I remember as Mrs. McGahey. Something like that. Dad wanted me to take up lessons again, and inquired about it with Mrs. McGahey, who steered him to Gordon Hooker. And so, I ended up flying to LA for two weeks.

Hooker was amazing. I had four lessons from him over those two weeks. He started me on “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” teaching me to incorporate his chording style. He threw some theory at me, stuff which no doubt stuck with college students but didn’t work well with me. But somehow, he got his style through to me. I would practice up to eight hours a day; as soon as I sat down at Mrs. McGahey’s piano, my back would ache.

I got “What a Friend” down, and then we worked on “Stand Up for Jesus,” which used his style in a very different manner. There was a third song, which might have been “Have Thine Own Way, Lord,” but I’m not sure. Mainly, I recall the other two songs.

Two weeks, four lessons. And nearly everything I play is based on what Gordon Hooker taught me. Playing with a band, I go away from chording most of the time, but when I need a full sound, I pull out Hooker’s techniques and let ‘er rip.

That’s what I did today, with “Stand Up for Jesus.” Thanks, Dr. Hooker, for your patience with a high schooler. And thanks, Dad, for not giving up on making a pianist out of me. Playing the piano gives me more joy than anything else I do in church.

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Leaping to Conclusions about Swedish Detective Novels

swedishbooks_190.jpgI’ve read books by two different Swedish authors. Three books by Henning Mankell, whose protagonist is police detective Kurt Wallander. And two books by Maj Sjorrel about detective Martin Beck. Mankell is the better and more prolific writer. His book White Lioness, in particular, was amazing, with two different investigations, and two sets of fully-developed characters, occurring simultaneously in different countries (Sweden and South Africa). It was a fascinating read, watching the two investigations intersect. But I like Martin Beck a lot, too.

The thing that strikes me as interesting is that neither detective is the maverick figure that you typically find in American detective novels. No Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Spencer, Mike Shayne, or Lew Archer. Of course, those are private detectives, while Wallander and Beck are police detectives, so perhaps a better analogy would be Alex Cross from the James Patterson novels, or Lucas Davenport from the John Sandford “prey” novels. In that case, the resemblance is closer. And yet, those Swedish detectives tend to be real team players, and you see the rest of the team actually advancing the case, whereas if anything happens in a Patterson novel, it comes from the initiative of Alex Cross. And Davenport, come to think of it, pushes the envelope constantly. The Swedish detectives have no trouble sharing the spotlight, and often significant things happen without their presence whatsoever.

I guess Americans like larger-than-life rogue heroes, while the Swedes are okay with non-heroic, team-playing plodders. In a country of socialism, a politically neutral country that avoids conflict, I guess that’s understandable. As compared to the cowboy rugged individualism of American society. It’s just something I’ve enjoyed musing about.

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How Can People do This?

Yesterday I wrote about the horrors of factory farming. The images from the videos I watched haunted me all day today. I’ve watched such videos before–there are lots of them on the internet–but have never been bothered at such a deep place in my soul. The cows bellowing in pain, as these gentle creatures are practically tortured by the type of people who would have felt right at home running Auschwitz. The pigs stuck in their stalls, unable to turn around, kept there for months on end with nothing to do but eat. And they go insane. Pigs are as smart as dogs. Imagine confining a yellow lab to one of those metal pens, stuck facing forward, no fresh air, no exercise, nothing. Just stand there and go insane. This is what happens to put meat on our tables. Yeah, it bothered me all day.

This isn’t about hunting–I have no problems with that. It’s not about raising livestock on family farms. The issue, for me, is factory farming, these complexes where all human decency is sacrificed in the name of commercial efficiency.

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Factory Farms: More than a Moral Dilemma

The enormous beef recall, the result of animal cruelty violations, has brought the subject or factory animal farming to the forefront. Again.

Greg Boyd, a minister in Minnesota, discussed the issue of factory farming in a blog post, “Compassionate Dominion and Factory Farms.” It’s a very, very compelling piece. And then you can watch the video “Farm to Fridge,” which about made me wretch.

Yes, God gave us dominion over animals. And yes, the Bible nowhere prohibits eating meat. But factory farming, these hellholes of misery for millions of animals, cannot possibly be part of God’s plan. It’s an abomination to which we Christians are blind.

Meanwhile, I love eating meat. What do I do about this? Greg Boyd became a vegetarian, but doesn’t urge that on everyone. But at the least, he suggests eating only meat from free-range animals. Like those cows and pigs and chickens on grandpa’s farm, that roamed the pastures all day long in the fresh air. But how can you know, when you sit down at Logan’s or Smokey Bones, the road that that sirloin took before landing on your plate?

I don’t know what I think about all of this. But it really bothers me. It’s most definitely a moral issue. Read Greg Boyd’s post. It’ll disturb you.

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Lovin’ This Ecumenical Stuff

Five churches in our neighborhood have developed a good working relationship, and we’re doing some things cooperatively. Two years of doing VBS together. A picnic in the park. Last year, for each Sunday night during Lent, we met in a different church for a soup supper and getting-acquainted. We’re doing that again this year. And last night was Anchor’s turn to host.

Pam and I ate with some folks from Grace Presbyterian. The Grace people are incredibly fun. (I brought two crockpots, one with vegetable beef, and other with minestrone.) After the meal, we all moved to the sanctuary. The worship team did two prelude numbers (the people applauded after each one), and then led the congregation–or pieces of five congregations–in four of our favorite songs (“Not to Us,” “Lord of Everything,” “Everlasting God,” and “Never Let Go”). The sanctuary was packed, and standing up there pounding the keyboard gave me a high.

Pastor Tim took his turn leading a lesson from Phil Yancey’s “The Jesus I Never Knew.” He had us discuss questions with people seated near us on the subject of temptation. I happened to sit with several folks from Trinity United Methodist. In particular, I interacted with a 15-year-old guy from Trinity who feels called into the ministry and is anxious to get started. A real solid young man. I greatly enjoyed talking to him. Excellent spiritual insights.

In June, these five churches are cooperating to host a Walk Thru the Bible seminar. I’m juiced about that.

I’ve attended United Brethren churches all my life. Churches in four states (Indiana, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and California). I’ve never attended a UB church that actively, regularly cooperated with other churches. We don’t like cooperating with other UB churches, let alone non-UB churches. So I’m lovin’ this ecumenical (a bad BAD word to many folks) stuff, being part of the worldwide body of Christ.

You can’t pull this off just anywhere. UB churches aren’t the only suspicious ones. But in our neighborhood, we had five churches with pastors who were open to the idea, and synergy happened. More power to us.

Pastor Tim wrote about last night on his blog.

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The Toughest Greeters

I came across a church called The Church at the Pen, which exists to start churches in Idaho’s State penitentiaries. The tag line says, “Our greeters can beat up your greeters!” Yagottaloveit!

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Internet Usage in China vs. the US

The number of internet users in the US and China is now equal. But they don’t use the internet the same way, according to an interesting study.

  • 78% of Chinese internet users visit social-networking sites, compared to 54% in the US.
  • 54% of the Chinese play online game “frequently or constantly,” compared to 27% in the US.
  • 56% of Chinese spend at least ten hours a month in a virtual world (like Second Life), compared to a mere 6% in the US.
  • Three times as many Chinese download or watch films online frequently.
  • Chinese are five times more likely to use online dating service (only 3% in the US).
  • 40% of Chinese internet users own a smartphone, that can do email and surf the web. Only 6% of US internet users own a smartphone.

The demographics–age breakdown, number of men vs. women–were the same. But very different populations. China’s huge population and fast development means they’ll very soon–maybe even now–have the world’s largest base of internet users.

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Spade, Marlowe, Archer, and Spencer

3books.jpgI love the old-time, private detective pulp novels, and so I’m going to bore you with amateur drivel about the most famous ones. Please don’t humor me. Just go away and come back tomorrow, unless you envision the possibility of appreciating my shallow insights. I shall seek to sound officious, but don’t be fooled.

I just finished these detective novels, in this order:

  • The Way Some People Die, one of Ross MacDonald’s 18 Lew Archer novels.
  • Trouble is My Business, a quartet of stories by Raymond Chandler starring P.I. Philip Marlowe.
  • The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett’s only Sam Spade novel.

The contemporary and highly prolific Robert Parker, with his private investigator Spencer, is usually considered the heir to Raymond Chandler. I’ve read all but the latest Spencer novel (it sits on my shelf, a certain swell read). Chandler, in turn, is regarded as the heir to Dashiell Hammett. Usually getting left out is Ross MacDonald, who came after Chandler and whom Robert Parker adores. MacDonald, rightfully, is Chandler’s heir.

Philip Marlowe appears in nine books, while Same Spade appears only in The Maltese Falcon, plus a few short stories. Humphrey Bogart played Marlowe in “The Big Sleep” and Spade in “The Maltese Falcon.” If I remember right, he played them pretty much the same, which isn’t true to the books. Lew Archer and Philip Marlowe could be twins–smart-alecky, resourceful, contantly vexing the cops. But Spade is different: a strong-built fellow, blonde, quiet, mysterious, an explosive mean streak. Humorless. I absolutely loved The Maltese Falcon. Just wish Hammett had written as much about Spade as he did the unnamed Continental Op (another detective whom I really like, but alas, whom Bogart never portrayed).

Chandler writes with extraordinary wit, and every few pages comes a turn of phrase so clever and unique, you want to call someone up and say, “You’ve got to read this!” You want to write it down so you’ll never forget it, show it to your wife, post it on your blog. There are whole websites devoted to Chandlerisms. Gems like these:

  • “I guess God made Boston on a wet Sunday.”
  • “From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class.¬† From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away.”
  • “He looked as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.”
  • “She jerked away from me like a startled fawn might, if I had a startled fawn and it jerked away from me.”
  • “The streets were dark with something more than night.”
  • “The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips.”
  • “I’m an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.”
  • “Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”
  • “It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.”
  • “The corridor which led to it had a smell of old carpet and furniture oil and the drab anonymity of a thousand shabby lives.”

A Chandler book deserves to be savored. Four Chandler novels remain on my shelf, unread, patiently awaiting their chance to delight me as much as the other five books. And yet, there’s something about MacDonald’s books that I almost prefer. Lew Archer brings practically nothing new to the genre, a rough clone of Marlowe. But the plots seem easier to follow than in Chandler and Hammett. Very accessible, and always fun. Often, his phrasing recalls Chandler.

But Parker is tops. In Spencer, he reinvented the private detective. Not only as a very tough guy, much tougher than Spade, but with an extraodinarily tough sidekick, Hawk. Plus a girlfriend, Susan, and a relationship that evolves over the course of the 30-some novels. A P.I. with an intellectual streak who likes to cook, and can sum up an entire personality by citing three characteristics. Spade, Marlowe, and Archer come from the same DNA, the stock that Hammett invented. But Spencer is a first. As was, for that matter, Sam Spade.

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