Monthly Archives: February 2010

I Really Really Dislike Your Pews

pews.JPGDo you realize how uncomfortable your wooden church pews are? I don’t care how much padding you added to them, because it’s never enough. They’re too narrow, too hard, the backs are terribly uncomfortable, and there’s not enough leg room. Probably. Maybe. I’m generalizing.

You don’t notice, because you’re used to your pews. Discomfort is the norm. But not so for me.

The past two weeks, I’ve been in churches with wooden pews. I find myself constantly squirming, trying to get comfortable. I continually adjust, twisting this way and that, crossing my legs one way and then the other, never fully satisfying (for long) the complaints of my back and tailbone.

The lack of leg room can be pitiful, too, especially as you bump knees and shins on protruding hymnal racks. It’s almost as bad a flying coach, except that pews don’t recline and there’s no neck support, no contours, no pillows, no armrests…. Come to think of it, it’s a lot worse than flying coach.

I say this reluctantly, because I fully acknowledge the validity of all of these statements:

  • It’s unspiritual to be comfortable during worship.
  • The churches in Acts had pews.
  • A church with pews is more worshipful than a church without.
  • The more ornate the wood, the more sacred the sanctuary.
  • The Holy Spirit is far more present in churches with pews.
  • If Jesus could hang on a cross for me, how can I complain about an hour sitting in a wooden pew?

We’re spoiled at Anchor. When Anchor went through its “restart” in 1998, the wooden pews were yanked from the floor and replaced with green, heavily-padded chairs (like the one above). I can sit in them for hours without discomfort, whether sitting up straight or in my usual slouch. The cushioned seat is very wide, thereby accommodating persons who are amply endowed on the backside. We shallow, carnal churchgoers can fully concentrate on the sermon without once thinking about our aching backs or tailbones.

So when I go to a church with pews, I really struggle. I just can’t get comfortable.

And that’s probably how your church’s visitors feel. They check out your service, and the lasting impression is, “Those pews really suck.”

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The Brain Game: Using My Trivial Mind

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L-r: Stephanie, Luke, Jeremy, and me.

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The group of teams competing just before us. (Click to enlarge)

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There we are, ready to flaunt our trivia knowledge in front of 500 people.

Tonight I participated in The Brain Game, a big fundraiser for the Fort Wayne Center for Learning. It’s a trivia contest. Companies and organizations and anyone else who wants to can sponsor (for a cost) a team in The Brain Game. Pam’s CPA firm, Christen-Souers LLC, entered a team this year. Jeremy and Luke, two of the four partners, along with one of their employees, Stephanie, agreed to be on the team. When they couldn’t think of a fourth, Pam suggested me. And so, this guy who is the total pits with numbers spent the evening representing a CPA firm.

There were over 40 teams. They divided them into groups of about 7, and the winner of each group made it into the finals. Our group went fourth (which means we got to hit the buffet before heading into battle). We were not expecting to do very good, and we started out in line with that expectation.

Our grouping was called the “Bora Bora Brainiacs.” The other teams were from C. Henry Discount Steel, Fort Wayne Metals, Lifeline Youth & Family Services, OmniSource, the Chef’s Academy, and radio station WMEE. Each team member held an electronic device on which you could punch in your answer–A, B, C, or D. There were ten questions, all multiple choice, and a team could gain a maximum of 4 points per question. We had ten seconds to record our answers, and could talk amongst ourselves. After each question, they showed the team standings on a screen.

After the first two questions, we still hadn’t scored. The name “Christen Souers LLC” was nowhere to be found. But we got on a roll, and suddenly, we were in second place. The question that jumped us ahead was one I knew: “Where was Microsoft founded?” Most teams picked Washington or Massachusetts, but I knew it was Albuquerque, NM. We knew what TARP stood for. We knew that Norway had won more gold medals in Winter Olympics (over the years) than any other country. And suddenly, we were in first place, and remained there through the last four questions or so.

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Two of the team members from Lifeline, who beat us. They had wonderful outfits, and went around the convention hall campaigning to get votes as the Best Dressed.

Going into the last question, we led by three points. The most points you could get on a question was 4. We knew that if we cast a vote on each answer on the last question, the worst that could happen is that we would be tied for the lead. The 10th question asked what Space Shuttle astronauts lost during a spacewalk in a year I can’t remember. The answer was “tools,” or a tool bag, or something like that, but the other answers sounded convincing, too. We cast one vote for each answer. Unfortunately, our closest competitor, Lifeline, gave all four answers on “tools,” and they caught us.

Overtime! The other five teams were dismissed, leaving just us and Lifeline.

Question 11: still tied. Question 12: still tied. Then question 13: “What was the first face to appear on metal school lunchboxes?” Or something like that. The options: The Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, and I can’t remember the fourth. We put all four votes on “The Lone Ranger.” The other team put all four votes on “Hopalong Cassidy.” Drum role. Pregnant tension.

It was Hopalong.

We had expected to get trounced. But now, having come so close, we felt really really disappointed. But hey, that’s how it goes. Life is filled with disappointments. But we could at least hold our heads a bit high.

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The Spanish Inquisition guys would have had my vote for best costume…if I had voted.

The teams all came wearing costumes of some kind. There was a beach theme to the night, so we made it simple: matching Hawaiian shirts, khaki shorts, and sneakers or sandals. We had the most basic outfit of any team. There were some very, very elaborate and clever costumes. You could vote on your favorite, and that team automatically made it into the finals. I didn’t vote, but my vote would have gone to The Spanish Inquisition, four guys who represented…well, I have no idea what they represented. I think they were just four guys who pitched in the money to field a team. They wore long, full red robes. But they didn’t need my vote, because they won their “heat” and made it into the finals that way. I think they ultimately placed third.

The final round was a mini program in itself, with dancing acts, jump-roping, a girl ventriloquist, a high school choir, and other things interjected between questions. For a while, I thought the team from Shawnee Construction & Engineering, wearing hardhats, would win. Imagine that–construction workers winning a trivia contest (though they were probably from the engineering wing). But a team called “Parents and Teachers” ultimately won. 

Altogether, it was a very fun night. Definitely the most interesting fundraiser I’ve ever attended.

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Toward a Sustainable Afghan Military

You have to be careful in drawing comparisons between Afghanistan and Vietnam. There are significant differences in the governments of Afghanistan and South Vietnam, in the nature of and capabilities of the enemy forces, in the US military, and in our understanding of fighting a guerrilla army. But war historian Andrew West raises some valid questions.

He points out that in Vietnam, the South Vietnamese Army was, to a large extent, “Americanized” and designed to fight alongside American troops and logistical support. West says, “The plan worked remarkably well, as long as American forces and or support was close at hand. But the South Vietnamese military was never meant to fight on its own.”

When we basically pulled out in 1973, South Vietnam fell within two years. He says the Vietnamese army was not sufficiently Vietnamese to survive our departure. When North Vietnam invaded, they found lots of high-quality, but unusable, American equipment which the South Vietnamese weren’t able to maintain.

I remember reading a war memoir of a former South Vietnamese general. He said that before America entered the war in force, South Vietnam had amazing airplane mechanics who knew how to keep shot-up planes flying with the equivalent of duct tape and bailing wire. But when we entered the war, if an airplane engine wasn’t working right, our solution was to replace the whole engine. That became the new way to do things. When we left, replacing engines was no longer an option, but they didn’t know how to fix what was broken.

West looks ahead to America’s eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan. Are we building an Afghan army that can do well fighting alongside American forces, but will crumble when we leave? Are we again trying to build a First World military out of a Third World country, something which is unsustainable in our absence?

These are valid questions, but are nothing new to our military leaders, who ever live in the enduring shadow of Vietnam.

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Thanks a Lot, Coach.

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When I saw the report this morning about Sven Kramer, the Dutch speedskater who was skating to a sure gold medal when his coach messed up and got him disqualified–well, it’s a heart-breaking story. My sympathies immediately went out to the coach, who felt terrible for messing up.

Mika, on Morning Joe, felt the same way. And on CNN, when they showed the report, the host felt bad for the coach.

But as I drove to work this morning, I thought about that. Why was I instinctively drawn to the coach? Why wasn’t my first reaction to feel bad for Sven Kramer?

After all, Kramer’s the one who trained brutally hard for years and years, probably since he was a young kid. He’s the one who sacrificed and punished his body in pursuit of a dream. He’s the one who skated those 25 laps in Olympic record time. He’s the one who would have received the Gold medal and gone into the history books. He’s the one on whom the hopes of his country rested. He’s the guy six million skating-obsessed Dutch viewers were watching. He’s the one who truly lost something.

But my first thought was to feel bad for the coach. Why? Here’s what I concluded.

I can’t relate to Sven Kramer, an elite, world-class athlete. He exists in a different universe.

But I can relate to a poor dumb schmuck who screws up. That’s where I live, the land of the ne’er-do-well, of the guy who squanders his chance, who gets confused under pressure, who blows it for everyone else, who makes a mistake which can never be redeemed. The coach–he’s my kind of people.

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How Do You Define Clueless?

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Musings about the Angel of Death’s Criteria

Pastor Tim preached about Charlton Heston Moses and the Exodus today. As he talked about the final plague, the death of the firstborn sons, I began wondering:

How exactly did God define “firstborn son”? Was there an age cut-off?

There were plenty of fathers and grandfathers who were firstborn sons. Pharoah himself may  have been a firstborn son. Did the Angel of Death kill firstborn sons regardless of age, or did he concern himself only with dependent children?

What if a man had fooled around, and secretly had a son by another woman before having a son by his wife. Would that other boy have died, while the boy he was raising was spared (since he was not truly his firstborn son)? And did that make his wife suspicious?

Was it only a man’s firstborn son that died, or the woman’s firstborn son? In the latter case, one man could have lost multiple sons.

What did the Angel do when he came across a home with a hermaphrodite
child? Such children, bearing both male and female sexual
characteristics, occur 1-3 out of every 100,000 people, so there would
have been some such Egyptian children. I’m just wondering.

These are the questions which keep me awake at night.

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Books: North of Montana, Judas Horse

AprilSmithBooks225.jpgI just finished two books by April Smith, a new author to me. “North of Montana” and “Judas Horse” are two Black Lizard/Vintage Crime mysteries featuring Ana Grey, an FBI investigator. The books were written 15 years apart–1994 and 2008–which is a bit odd. But I went right from one to the other and didn’t feel like I had missed much in Ana’s life.

“North of Montana” revolves around a Hollywood star’s claim that her doctor got her addicted to painkillers. Ana Grey is assigned to investigate–a chump chase, not anything she wanted. But swirling around this investigation are a whole bunch of other threads, all of which are tied up, one way or another, by the end of the book:

  • What happened to Ana’s father, an El Salvadoranian?
  • Ana’s relationship with her happily-married partner.
  • Her relationship with Poppy, the bigoted cop/grandfather who raised her.
  • The superior who squelches her quest for a promotion.
  • The two Hispanic orphans, their mother gunned down, whom she is told are her cousins.

“North of Montana” was, in short, a wonderful book. Not a murder mystery, which I normally gravitate to; not a high-action book. But there was a lot going on, and it held my rapt attention.

“Judas Horse” was very different, yet equally superb. Ana Grey goes undercover to infiltrate a group of eco-terrorists. Smith didn’t have lots of threads going in this one, but focused on Ana’s undercover work and the collection of interesting personalities among these misguided criminals. Interestingly, Smith educates the reader about ecological causes, particularly regarding animals (mustang horses especially), and you feel sympathy for those causes (though I’m already inclined in that direction). And yet, you object strongly to the methods used to advance these causes. A variety of elements came together at the end, though not in the ways I was expecting. She surprised me in a number of ways.

April Smith is a skilled writer who knows all about dramatic tension
and conflict. She is a thrice Emmy-nominated writer-producer with lots
of credits on TV series and movies. I cannot emphasize how much I enjoyed her books. April Smith rocks!

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Curling – A Manly Man’s Sport

Last night I watched the USA men’s Curling team lose, in overtime, to the Swiss. It was a thrilling match which demonstrated the human spirit at its finest. Rarely have I been so proud to be an American.

Our finely tuned Curling athletes pushed themselves to the limit, extracting every last ounce of energy from their chiseled physiques, the determination showing on their faces as they dug deep within themselves for that last boost of adrenaline, dripping sweat betraying their exhaustion, drawing on untold years of crushing endurance training which would vanquish lesser men. But alas, it was not to be. Not this day.

Now let’s give them all wedgies.

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Evan Bayh: Goodbye to Another Moderate

evanbayh.jpgWhat a surprise this afternoon–that Evan Bayh won’t seek re-election to the Senate. His speech, which I watched on the CNN site, was highly critical of the way Congress works, and it’s clear that he has had enough. He’s more of a CEO than a back-room, arm-twisting politician. He likes to get things done. And he apparently felt he was wasting his time in the Senate, even though he was part of the majority. It’s nice to see a few politicians with principle.

Bayh was one of the dwindling group of moderates in the Senate. Both parties seem to be exorcising their moderates in favor or extremists. Polarization seems to be the name of the game. As moderates flee or get kicked out, government will become increasingly dysfunctional.

I voted for Bayh when he was governor of Indiana, and, I’m pretty sure, in each of his Senate campaigns. Before that, I voted for Dan Coats, a Republican, whose place Bayh took when Coats decided not to run again. Coats is a good man. I would have been torn, but would probably have voted for Coats. Now I won’t need to make that decision.

With Bayh out of the picture, I greatly doubt that the Democrats can find somebody of caliber to beat Dan Coats. So that’ll be another Senate pick-up for the Republicans. With Dick Lugar and Evan Bayh, Indiana has had two excellent senators,
both of them common-sense moderates who prefer to be bi-partisan. I
hope Dan Coats will continue that legacy.

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What’s a Triple Lutz Salchow Triple Spin Toe Loop Camel?

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I’ve been watching, and enjoying, Olympic figure skating since I was a kid. But I’m here to admit that I don’t know what all those terms mean. I only get exposed to them every four years, and none of the announcers ever explain them. They just talk about them as if you, the casual viewer, know what the maneuver is.

Like the salchow. What’s that? It always sounds like “sow-cow,” which is what you get when you mate Mrs. Porky with Mr. Bessie. I couldn’t tell the difference between a salchow and a lutz, or a triple toe-loop, for that matter. Or an axel. Or a camel. What makes an axel different from a salchow? What’s easier, a double toe-loop or a double lutz?

Then there are different types of spins, lifts, jumps, flips, and spirals.  My favorite term is the death spiral (a move which I think I recognize). 

Right now, they’re showing pairs figure skating. And the announcers are throwing all these terms around at us amateurs, as if we’re thoroughly familiar with this insider lingo. I think they’re on a power trip. They enjoy making us commoners think we’re uncultured hicks.

Well, I’ve watched figure skating enough years without understanding these terms. No sense in learning now. Just enjoy the show.

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