Monthly Archives: December 2009

Rewarding the Bell-Ringers

This afternoon I went to both the Scott’s and Kroger’s at Village of Coventry. I know, it sounds kind of redundant, since Kroger owns both and Kroger-branded items permeate the Scott’s shelves. But Scott’s didn’t have what I wanted, and Kroger did.

But I’m writing about the Salvation Army bell-ringers. They were great at both places–outgoing, friendly, not overbearing. I usually welcome their presence–not always, but usually. And these guys were good. Especially the one at Kroger.

I gave a buck at Scott’s, even though I left the store without buying anything. And gave another buck at Kroger.

Many years ago, I read something by Jill Briscoe, back when she traveled regularly as a Christian speaker. She said no matter what the offering was, she gave at least a dollar. If the offering plate was passed, for whatever reason, she found at least one dollar to give. I’ve tried to copy that principle. It doesn’t have to be a dollar, but something.

So every time I pass a Salvation Army bucket, I give. Whenever the fireman are out on the road with their boots, collecting for Jerry, I grab a handful of change and toss it in. When someone’s out there personally collecting, I try to help. As opposed to getting that phone call from the Police Benevolence Association, or whatever it is; I never give over the phone, unless it’s Huntington University.

We shouldn’t be too attached to our money. That’s the principle.

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Books: Leather Maiden, Mucho Mojo

lansdalebooks.jpgI’ve now read four books by Joe Lansdale, and I must say, he’s becoming one of my favorite authors. I wrote previously about “The Bottoms,” which was a truly outstanding book. The other three books are all in the Black Lizard imprint, including these two which I just finished.

“Leather Maiden” is told first-person by Cason Statler, an Iraq war vet who returns to his home town in East Texas as a newspaper reporter. He becomes intrigued with the story of a college student who disappeared six months before, assumed murdered, and begins pursuing that story.

It’s a fascinating plot, with lots of smalltown intrigue, which unravels at a nice pace and with plenty of surprises. And when Booger, a somewhat psycho friend from Iraq, enters the picture–well, this is one really interesting guy. “Leather Maiden” is a very well-written book, too. Lansdale knows what he’s doing.

“Mucho Mojo” is the 2nd book in Lansdale’s “Hap and Leonard” series, which dates back to 1995 and includes an entry in 2009. I would describe Hap and Leonard as a poor man’s Spencer and Hawk. They’re a mostly down-on-their-luck duo of tough guys bouncing around the south. Probably in their 50s, from what I can tell. Hap is a white guy, Leonard is black (and gay, but totally non-stereotypical, and only finds himself attracted to straight guys). Like Spencer and Hawk, their banter is a treasure, especially when it touches–as it often does–on racial and other issues in very non-PC ways.

I previously read “Savage Season,” the first book in the series, and wasn’t all that crazy about it. But “Mucho Mojo,” built around solving a series of child murders, is better, and I’m afraid I’m hooked. I put the rest of the Hap and Leonard books on my Christmas list for Pam.

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The Problem with Sitting on the Front Row

Last night, we had our staff Christmas party. We started with light snacks at the home of Phil and Darlene Burkett, and then headed to The New Huntington, the renovated theatre in beautiful downtown Huntington, Ind., which has been turned into a supper club.

The meal was good. The program was great. Three very talented singers doing Christmas-themed songs, interspersed with hilarious background info about the songs by one of the founders.

One song was Gary Allen’s “Let’s be Naughty (and Save Santa the Trip).” One of the two guys, Kyle, a nice-looking young guy with a beautiful high voice, sang this one. And for part of the song, he was on his knees in front of my wife, serenading her with these words:

Such a long sleigh ride from the North Pole
And he’s already got so many places to go
We’ve got each other, don’t need another gift
Let’s be naughty and save Santa the trip

Well Santa’s face would turn red if he could only see
What we’ll be unwrapping underneath our Christmas tree
Well this year all I’m asking for is one little wish
Let’s be naughty and save Santa the trip

He couldn’t have picked a better person. Pam, as those of you who know her are aware, is a very outgoing, free-wheeling kind of person…NOT. I was sitting behind Pam, but would love to have seen her horrified face. At least she didn’t have to get out of her seat.

Anyway, it made the evening quite memorable. And now Pam has challenged me to serenade her with, “Let’s be naughty and save Santa the trip.” Hmmm.

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Facebook Friends on the Jury

Interesting case in Baltimore, where jurors became Facebook friends during the trial. A mistrial may result, because juror aren’t allowed to meet out-of-court. Just shows how connected we are.

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Books: Dragon Tattoo, Bobby Z

dragontattoo_bobbyz300.jpg I just finished two more books from the Vantage “Black Lizard” imprint.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” by Stieg Larsson, ranks among the very best Black Lizard mysteries I’ve read (I’ve read 84 to date). Henning Mankell’s “The White Lioness” is the best, and then you’d have to throw in a Raymond Chandler book and Jim Thompson’s “The Killer Inside Me.” But this one’s right up there.

Sweden, for some reason, is blessed with a lot of good mystery writers (including Mankell). This book is 600 pages (the longest Black Lizard book I’ve read), without a lot of action. But Larsson establishes strong characters and an intriguing mystery to solve, and I never lost interest.

Plus, there’s the title character, Lisbeth Salander, who is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever come across. The book alternates between her and the mainest character, Mikael Blomkvist (who is quite interesting in his own right), and the two storylines inevitably converge. But it’s always more interesting when dealing with Lisbeth.

Basically, a billionaire hires Blomkvist to discover what happened to a niece, who disappeared 40 years before. Lots of other stuff surrounds that basic task. And even when THAT mystery is solved, the book isn’t over.

In short: I highly recommend this book. I noticed in B&N that Larsson has another book out, and it also stars Lisbeth Salander. Can’t wait.

“The Death and Life of Bobby Z,” by Don Winslow, involves a felon who is released from prison so he can impersonate a drug dealer, Bobby Z, and infiltrate a drug gang. The book moves fast, with a fairly high body count and lots of bad guys converging from different directions. It’s not a great book, but it was a fun read while it lasted, which is 260 pages. I did not mourn when I came to page 260.

UPDATE: Brent Birdsall just sent this a link to an article about the “Dragon Tattoo” book, which is being made into a movie.

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Automated Confessional

This is hysterical–a Youtube video about an automated Catholic confessional. I couldn’t stop laughing. It was shot in Spanish, but there are English subtitles.

If you’re reading this on Facebook, you’ll need to click on the “View Original Post” link to see it. That’ll take you to my blog.

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Apple’s Glorious Decade

We obnoxious Apple fanatics love to gloat. And so, I offer you the Adweek “picks of the decade.”

  • Top Brand: Apple.
  • Top product: iPod
  • Ad Campaign of the Decade: Get a Mac.
  • Top Marketer: Steve jobs.

Of those wonderful “Get a Mac” ads, Adweek writes:

Apple always diverged from the ‘speeds and feeds’ ads associated with the computer category, but the brand really defined itself with the 2006 launch of TBWA\Media Arts Lab’s ‘Get a Mac’ campaign. That series of 60-plus ads brought some humanity into the equation by turning the machines into live-action cartoons. In so doing, the comic spots offer transparent understanding of the aspirations of its audience and how people identify–and connect emotionally–with technology.

The genius is in the casting. The Mac guy, Justin Long, is a younger version of Steve Jobs who is casual and comfortable in his skin. PC, personified by John Hodgman, as a rounder, paler Bill Gates, is a well-meaning geek with all kinds of operating problems. For Apple, the campaign managed the neat trick of making the brand look laid back and cool while it mercilessly skewered its rival.

Google was named Technology Company of the Decade, and Youtube was named Best Website. Missing in action is Microsoft.

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Supper with Santa at Anchor


Tonight, Anchor held its annual “Supper with Santa.” Tim Bauman, who used to be a Santa at Glenbrook Mall, and also moonlights as guitarist and lead singer on our worship team, always dresses in a Santa outfit, and families get their pictures taken with him. That’s me and Pam with Santa above.

And we have food, of course, this being a supper. I brought two crockpots of chili, others brought sloppy joes, macaroni, and spaghetti. We kept it simple and kid-friendly.

It was a fun night, as always, and a good chance to get acquainted with new people.

A lot of churches wouldn’t allow a Santa in the church, because they consider him sacrilegious. He’s not what Christmas is all about, they insist. I understand the concept, but think they need to chill out.

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The Dennie Christmas Cats


Jordi loves laying under the Christmas tree, but still prefers his cat bed.


Meanwhile, Molly has become quite the Daddy’s lap cat. She’ll settle in for hours at a time, or until my legs fall asleep and I just HAVE to move.

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In Search of Programmer Pastors

Mashable posted “8 Must-Have Traits of Tomorrow’s Journalist.” The second one was “Programmer.”

The post said that news organizations, wanting to make the transition to online journalism, are looking for journalists who also have skills with HTML, CSS, PHP, Flash, and other technologies.

“This means being able to report and present a quality story using multimedia, and having the skills to build and manage the platforms that present the stories.”

I could make the same argument regarding pastors. Ministers are primarily trained to speak–to stand at the pulpit and deliver a sermon. But our culture has gone beyond that. We value visuals and storytelling. Multimedia, and the platforms for presenting visual information, need to be part of the message. A PowerPoint presentation to accompany the sermon is the most basic example. But you can extend it to developing and using video, and to transferring sermons, announcements, and other information to the web.

Now, a lot of people will protest, “A pastor shouldn’t spend his time doing that. He should delegate it to someone on staff.” That works for the minority of pastors who actually have a staff, but who totally dominate the conversation. Since nearly everyone who is asked to present material to other ministers is from a multiple-staff church (because solo pastors, obviously, have no worthwhile ideas to contribute to world Christianity, so says our evangelical culture), that’s the idea that prevails. Don’t get me started.

But yet, the vast majority of senior pastors are solo pastors, without someone on staff who can do their graphics and web work. So wouldn’t the work of the Church be greatly enhanced if all of these pastors knew how to do some of that stuff?

For instance, basic familiarity with HTML would go a long way. If a small church has a website, chances are it’s the senior pastor who maintains it. The church website is now a basic, expected form of communication, yet most small-church websites look horrible and certainly wouldn’t attract people

It would be great if solo pastors understood how to create a web page, how to get video in a usable format, how to create graphics for use on the internet, how to create and post a podcast of their sermon.

Yes, it’s nice if a staffperson with deep expertise in these areas can handle such chores. But for the other 80% of pastors, a little knowledge could go a long way. Just as it does with journalists.

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