Monthly Archives: March 2009

Robo-Pong Woes

Okay, I’m ready to talk about it.

I skipped church Sunday to play in the Newgy Robo-Pong St. Joseph Valley Table Tennis Tournament in South Bend, Ind., and I feel like I got swallowed by a whale for my transgression.

My goal was to knock off one or two players who were higher rated, and thereby improve my rating with the US Table Tennis Association. This was my seventh sanctioned tournament, and my third time at St. Joseph Valley. I got my first rating–995–here in 2007, and won my table in both categories I entered (they put you in a group of four persons, and you play a round-robin, with the winner advancing to the next round). Last year I jumped nearly 200 points, playing probably my best ever in a tournament. My rating jumped from 1107 to 1298.

Then came the Highland tournament last fall. I had been suffering a lot of vertigo, wasn’t practiced up, and stunk up the athletic center. I lost about 50 points.

So this past weekend, I wanted to gain back some of those points. I wanted to at least break past the 1300 mark. I entered three categories, which occurred in this order: under 1625 (at 9 am), under 1500 (noon), and under 1750 (2 pm).

I started out playing a 1500+ player, an Indian fellow named Ruup. He tore me apart the first game, but in the next two games (we play the best of 5) I had a game point in both games. But couldn’t pull it off. Lost 3-0. I missed a lot of shots I normally make.

Then I played a 1434 player, almost 200 points above me. And I WON, 3-1. So that’ll help. Next I played a lesser rated player, around 1170 I believe, and beat him 3-1. So I was pleased. I would gain quite a few points.

In the under 1500, my table included just two other guys, both higher rated. I played badly, and lost to both of them 3-0. I should have at least made it competitive.

Then came the under 1750 category, where I expected to be blown away. All three guys were rated at least 200 points better than me. One guy had beaten me easily in a previous tournament, and he did that again. The other two–I could have beat them. I’ve beaten much better. But they played well, and I didn’t. 

Those last five losses won’t cost me any points, since they were all to high-ranked players. I beat the only lower-ranked player I played in the tournament, and knocked off one high-ranked guy, so I could jump past 300 when ratings are posted in a couple weeks. But I had prime opportunities to do even better, and I blew it.

So, though my rating will improve, I still went away disappointed. I’ve been trying to change some things in my game, and it has left me a bit confused. For now. And it showed. But I know what to work on, and I’ve got plenty of time before the next tournament (probably in September).

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Visit from Kingdom Hall


Two young men rang my doorball this Saturday morning, scaring Molly into the bedroom. Both were clean cut. The one doing the speaking wore a nice sweater. The other, who didn’t say anything but seemed a bit older, wore a jacket and tie, with a fedora, with the contemporary look that young people manage. 

Sweaterguy said they were ministers in the community, and were inviting people to a special service to commemorate the most important event of the year, Easter. He handed me a full-color flyer. I turned it over and immediately saw the words “Kingdom Hall,” which is what I expected. I took the flyer graciously and thanked them, and they went on. I don’t know if my apparent interest prompted them to put a checkmark beside my address for a follow-up visit. 

Fedoraguy was, I’m sure, the “trainer,” the experienced one of the twosome, while Sweaterguy was the trainee. That’s what my Evangelism Explosion paradigm told me, anyway.

The service is on Maundy Thursday, April 9, at a UAW union hall in Roanoke, 10 miles away. So they’re beating the bushes far and wide. Good for them. Admire the ambition and zeal. I was spending my Saturday morning reading a Sunny Randall mystery.

The flyer notes that there will also be a “special Bible talk” entitled, “Is there a true religion from God’s standpoint?” Wanna guess the answer?

I’m actually quite interested in going, except that we’ll probably have music practice. But I’d like to see their approach. Their outreach tactics. It would be instructional, and blog-worthy.

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The Water Bottle

waterbottle.jpgIn 1981, I watched the first round of the NCAA tournament in the hospital. Which reminds me of my evil nemesis, now vanquished. The Water Bottle.

I’ve always been mechanically inept. For the most part. There are things I can do, including some basic computer hardware stuff, and I’m great at putting up shelving. But for most other things–not so much. 

The premier demonstration of my ineptitude was that infernal water bottle I tried to install on my ten-speed back in high school. It was a white plastic water bottle, with a few pieces of hardware to attach it to the bike. Installation didn’t require an engineering degree. The instructions were clear, or as clear as they can be when written by someone in Japan with minimal English skills. It should have been a simple task. My brother Stu could have done it in three minutes, blindfolded. Upside down. While being kicked by wild horses.

And yet….

And yet….

I couldn’t figure it out. I struggled mightily with that belligerant water bottle, trying to figure out how to attach it to the bicycle bar. I’m sure that, in my frustration, I kicked some things around and perhaps flung the bottle once or twice at the garage wall. My tribulation worked absolute no patience, such was the insidious evil of that bottle.

Finally, I gave up in frustration. The thing simply didn’t work. What other conclusion could I draw? I could not, with even my best effort, conquer the water bottle. It was most assuredly demon-possessed.

For some reason, I kept the bottle around. And there it was, six years later, now a college graduate, when I woke up with back spasms. The pain was intense. I couldn’t make it to the phone to call work, nor to answer it when my coworkers called to see where I was. So I lay there on the floor (I did make it to the floor) for three or four hours before my fellow workers came to check on me and the landlord let them in.

During that time, nature saw fit to call. I could see the toilet, just 10 feet away, but I couldn’t get there. What to do? Well…hold it. But that only works for so long, because nature is relentless, and God designed the human body without an internal evaporation system. So I had to think of something, and as it turned out, I thought of several options, none of them dignified.

Then I noticed the water bottle. Right there beside the bed. Probably never used. Certainly never used for its intended purpose, attached to a bike. Waiting, for such a time as this. My  ill fortunes now created an urgent purpose for that despised container which had so vexed my teenage soul years earlier. Why did I even keep this object of past torment? I don’t know. But now, it provided an answer to a pressing–and let me assure you, it was pressing–need. 

My only concern was–would it overflow? It didn’t. 

An ambulance came and took me to the hospital, where I remained for six days. People went back and forth to my apartment, retrieving my bathrobe and clothes and other stuff. Then I finally came home.

And there, sitting on the bedroom floor, was the white water bottle, cap firmly in place. And that was not Mountain Dew inside, fermenting for the past week.

I emptied it into the toilet, and decided I probably didn’t want to ever ever EVER use that water bottle. So I threw it in the trash.

And so ended the sad, purposeless, unfulfilled, but ultimately critically useful life of The Water Bottle from Hell.

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In Support of Hunters

I’m concerned about America’s hunters. As the National Rifle Association has argued over the years, hunters need assault rifles for their dogged pursuit of Bambi & Friends. But now, we’re told, Mexico’s drug cartels are attending our gun show, buying up all the AK-47s, and taking them back to Mexico. In accordance with supply and demand, the cost of assault rifles is undoubtedly skyrocketing. And America’s innocent hunters are being left in the lurch. I’m not sure exactly where the lurch is, but I’m told it’s none too pleasant.

This jeopardizes an American coming-of-age tradition. When little Johnny becomes old enough to buy his first hunting license and strike out into the woods in pursuit of deer, ducks, or the occasional squirrel, he first must acquire a gun. For that, Dad takes him to a gun shop, or perhaps a gun show. And as we all know, every hunter’s rifle of choice is the AK-47, which liberals want to deprive us of. But now, with the cost so high because of the high demand, Johnny can’t able to afford an AK-47 on his meager newspaper route savings. And he goes away disappointed, crying.

It’s a sad story no doubt being played out across the country. Please, Mr. Obama, stop the drug cartels, so that AK-47s can remain in the hands of Americans.

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In Defense of Laughter

President Obama was criticized for going on Jay Leno, and Steve Kroft got on his case during a “60 Minutes” interview last Sunday when he smiled too much while talking about the economy. [Note to Steve: Lighten up. Though as a journalist, I know you were simply taking a spur-of-the-moment opportunity to obtain insight in the name of news–and you succeeded.]

Anyway, comedian Jane Condon wrote a piece on CNNPolitics called “Grab a Laugh, Mr. President.” She writes, “Everybody needs to use comedy in hard times.” It’s a good article, and I couldn’t agree more. People watch Jon Stewart because it mixes insight with humor. I don’t think humor somehow undignifies the Presidency.

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When the Kids Get Along


Came home to find Jordi and Molly sleeping on Pam’s comforter. Molly doesn’t always tolerate her brother being in close proximity, so it was worth a photo.
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In Support of … AIG?

It’s hard to feel sorry for AIG. And I don’t–not for the company. But all companies are staffed by human beings, or reasonable facsimiles thereof. Real people work at AIG, some of them not unlike you and me. People who Barney Frank and friends couldn’t care less about, as they score cheap populist points.

Here’s a resignation letter from an AIG exec. You gotta admit–he’s got a point.
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Pam and the Kids Taking a Nap


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Ally, Noodles, Ping Pong


Curt holding Ally, as Mandy and Jonathan watch.

Rick’s kids, Anna and Cameron, are on spring break, so he took the week off and brought them–along with Baby Ally–to Fort Wayne for a few days with Mom and Dad. Dorene remained in South Bend, working.

Stu and Joyce and their clan came over Monday night for a meal at Mom and Dad’s. Homemade noodles and Mom’s legendary rolls were the headliners.

But the real star was Ally. Everyone took turns holding her. For the record, Ally is the first of my nieces and nephews that I have held as a baby. 

Last night Rick and I trekked to the table tennis club. He plays at the South Bend club (which cranks out nationally-ranked players), and we’re both playing in a big tournament in South Bend this weekend. 

Rick has come to my club three or four times now, and enjoys it. Last night he won the majority of his matches, including the one against his big brother (we play the best of five games, and our match went down the wire to the fifth game). It is against the natural order of things for Rick, eight years my junior, to best me. I remain deeply resentful.

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Change Some Things, Don’t Change Others

Craig Groeschel posted “Working with God’s Seasons.” One point says:

If you had a singles ministry that worked for 9 years, but is no longer effective, celebrate the 9 years of success. Close it down and do something different. Don’t keep something on life support once its season has passed.

That applies to so many things whose time may have passed.

Most churches I know don’t hold a traditional Sunday night service–and maybe none at all (including mine). I grew up with that format, but since changing churches in 1989, haven’t attended a Sunday night service since. At my previous church, we did small groups, which were more effective. At Anchor we’ve never done anything on Sunday night. I wouldn’t call that “effective”…yet I don’t begrudge having the night free.

From my denominational perch, I see churches all the time that need to choose a different future, before one is forced on them. In most cases, they should merge with a nearby church, or just close. We were talking yesterday about churches in two different states that would be better off–the people would, and the cause of Christ in those communities–if they went this route.

There are many other things that need to turn out the lights. Christian organizations. Church traditions that mean nothing to current generations. Staid service orders. Women’s mission groups (okay, now I’m in trouble). Various church committees. 

On the other hand…in today’s society, we tend to treat as changeable some things that shouldn’t change.

  • If your marriage loses its spark, move on. Its “season” has ended, so admit it. Start a new season with somebody else. Wedding vows now sometimes replace “I will love and cherish you, til death do us part” with “I will love and cherish you as long as we are together.”
  • If you’re unhappy with something at church, take your toys and go elsewhere. Loyalty is outmoded. Go where your needs will be met, not where you can be used by God to meet other people’s needs. 
  • If a biblical teaching just doesn’t seem to work in today’s culture, or otherwise seems unnecessary to you, discard it. Watch whatever you want on TV and at the theatre. Engage in whatever sexual behavior society considers okay. Pile up debt as you pursue materialistic mirages. Don’t get too attached to biblical absolutes.
  • Tithing? Treat this quaint practice as optional. You’ve got too many financial needs to part with 10% of your income.
  • Smoking, drinking, pot–these are harmless. Everybody’s using them. We need to relate to our culture, so feel free to indulge.
  • If you experience any doubts or turbulence in your faith, hang it up. Maybe somewhere down the road you’ll want to rediscover God, but for now, if God just doesn’t seem to be pulling his weight, say good riddance. No sense clinging to something that doesn’t work for you. Because after all, it’s not about Jesus, it’s about you. 
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