Thursday, December 28, 2006

Cal crushes Texas A&M.

This item probably only matters to one of you (ahem, Evan) but I thought it noteworthy to remind the world that the University of California Golden Bears defeated the Texas A&M Aggies this evening in the glorious Holiday Bowl held in San Diego, California. You can go here to read more. You can go here to offer sympathies to an Aggies fan.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas.

I trust today has been a good day for you, your family and your friends. It's been a nice, quiet Christmas here in Turlock, where I'm visiting my mom for the week. Some friends were over yesterday for awhile, and today my brother joined us for lunch and some gift-opening. "Santa" was good, delivering cash and gift cards -- as requested this year, now that I'm a homeowner. There may be some posts this week, but I'm focused on relaxing and spending time with family and friends, so blogging won't be my highest priority this week. I pray God's blessings on you, wherever you are, whatever you've gone through in 2006, and whatever is just around the corner in your life.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

10 Highlights from 2006

Back when I worked in newspapers, at the end of December we'd always write these "best of" or "highlights" stories about specific beats we covered or hot topics of the day. In the spirit of days gone by, I offer this 10-Spot highlight list. More perhaps will follow, with narrower categories.

10 Highlights from 2006:
1. Buying a house.
2. Seeing my mom succeeding in her battle against cancer.
3. Leading a missions trip to Mexico.
4. Spending two refreshing weekends in Yosemite (including snow on April Fools Day).
5. Having billions of my emails read on the Simply Youth Ministry podcast.
6. Being part of the team that organized our most successful Harvest Festival outreach so far.
7. Challening and being challenged by my friend Bill Rath at this year's Youth Specialties conference.
8. Getting my hair buzzed by my students in January.
9. Deciding to get a mohawk 11 months later.
10. Going to the California Train Museum with my dad and stepmom.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Words of a child.

Overheard at Maison de Target:

Young boy: "Daddy, do you really want to spend that much money?"
Dad: "You don't think mommy's worth it?"
Young boy: "Oh, no, she's worth it."

Mountain views.

It's a relatively clear winter day here in Antelope, and from my office windows I can see the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada. The mountains are obscured in the summer, when our air becomes smoggy and hazy and brown. But during the winter, we're given wonderful views of the mountains on many days. Our church sits on the crest of a hill, enhancing the view.

I don't have links to any webcams that show this particular part of the Sierra, but if you're needing to view some true California snow, then check out this link to some views of Yosemite National Park.

Life With a Mohawk.

Top 10 Life Changes With a Mohawk:
10. It feels weird having your hair brush against the backs of chairs so easily.
9. You have to buy hair products again.
8. Longer stares from people in restaurants, businesses, church, neighborhood, family events, staff parties...
7. Washing your hair is a mix between quick scrub (buzzed zone) and real wash ('hawk zone).
6. You have new-found respect from all those 14-year-olds in your youth group who wish their parents would let them grow a mohawk, too.
5. All kinds of interesting women give you their phone numbers.
4. Little kids giggle and point -- more so than normal.
3. Going to iTunes and feeling like you should buy some punk music from the early '80s.
2. You get more traffic and comments on your blog.
1. Being called "Pastor Mo."

Special Mo-ments.

One of our parents (Joe Webb) took some pix at our fourth annual Route 1 Christmas Banquet this past Sunday. Another parent (Geoff Voss) took some, too, and other parents picked up a few shots here and there. Joe's are the only ones I've seen so far, so I thought I'd share a few highlights. This first pic is of me, encouraging everyone to pray for world peace at Christmas. Not exactly. But it's the best shot of my mohawk from the banquet.

This is the first of two votes on whether the mohawk should stay or go. These are the students who thought it should go...

and these are the students who thought it should stay...

Overwhelming, eh?

Each year, our banquet includes a silly team competition, and we almost always include Play-Doh as a competitive element. We've decorated small Christmas trees, we've made snowmen from Play-Doh, and other fun activities. This year's project: Create a manger scene using Play-Doh. This was the winning team. Note: Jesus is sportin' a mohawk in this scene. Or cowlick. Not sure.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

5 Things You Probably Don't Know About Me.

OK, Mr. "I have a photo of me with Robert Gates" (a.k.a. the Most Rev. Evan Mattei). I'll bite. The problem with this meme, though, is that I have multiple audiences for my blog: relatives, friends, students, parents, parishioners, fellow youth pastors, total strangers, old college classmates. Each group knows different "bits" of my life, so we'll see how many will learn something truly "new" about me.

1. I own every episode of The X-Files on DVD. I completed my final acquisition tonight by buying Season 7 at a super-discounted price at Best Buy. Only took me 7 years to complete the set...

2. I've broken bones 4 times, cut my head open twice, and sprained my ankle once. This may explain a lot about me...

3. I tried out for College Jeopardy during my freshman year of college. I didn't make it...

4. I have a collection of Hard Rock hurricane glasses, shot glasses, and guitar pins. My dad's largely responsible for the hurricanes because of all his travels back during my junior high, high school and college days. I'm responsible for most of my guitar pins...

5. I've studied several different foreign languages, yet I'm unable to hold a conversation in any of them. I took classes in French and in Russian and in Japanese. I lived in Greece for 6 months, so I picked up a little bit there. I've been to Mexico a few times, and Spanish is quite similar to French. And yet, the only language I can converse in is English...

The "New" Me.

OK, so at last it's revealed. I'm sportin' a mohawk these days.

So, how on earth could a normally sane person like myself end up with a 'hawk? Well, I'd like to say it involved someone paying me large sums of money to get a silly haircut, but no such luck. Instead, it's a way to pay respects to my students' support for a missions program.

In 2005, we set a goal of giving at least $2,000 to Speed the Light, a missions program that provides vehicles and sound equipment to missionaries around the world. We hit that goal, so my students got to shave my head in January 2006.

We set our 2006 goal at $3,000 but we didn't hit it. However, we DID give a little more than the year before, so I felt it was appropriate to do something silly once again. Thus, the mohawk.

Funny thing is, the mohawk doesn't look as bad on me as I thought it would. The students overwhelmingly like it, and some of the parents think it's cool. Some other parents aren't thrilled because now THEIR sons want mohawks, too. "Come on, dad, Pastor Rob has one! Why can't I?"

Anyway, that's the big news. I can't get rid of the mohawk until at least December 31st, and then I'll decide if I should keep it longer or not. I welcome your comments and feedback. Maybe even Tom Hammond will run another vote on his blog.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Experiment Continues.

Well, today is the third full day of my personal appearance experiment. So far, I've gotten a few stares but no harshly negative comments. Around the office, I've gotten a few shaking-heads and sighs, but no one has refused to talk to me because of my changed appearance -- though one parent Sunday night keep trying to avoid contact with me. Tomorrow night I'll have a fuller and clearer explanation of what happened, how long it will last, and what I really think about it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A personal experiment.

For the next two weeks, I'm willingly participating in a unique cultural and social experiment. I can't divulge too many details yet because it involves a slight altering of my appearance. I have family and friends coming to town this Thursday, and I don't want to risk them seeing the change before arriving at my house. After they've been here I'll post more details and images.

The experiment wasn't my original motive for the appearance change. Tonight was our fourth annual Christmas banquet for Route 1 Student Ministries, and I decided to do something that would add an extra touch of "memorable" to the event. I'm quite sure that none of the students who attended will forget their reaction when they first saw my change. I got some great responses from students -- and parents!

My senior pastor was quite positive. But I'm not sure how positive he'll be to discover that this change is becoming less temporary than I had planned. You see, for the next two weeks, I will be observing how I am observed. I will watch to see how people interact with me. I will look for stares and glances and giggles and such. I'm quite sure such thing will happen, even though I've only undergone a change in my outward appearance. I'm still the same person, yet my interactions will be different with some people.

And I'm sure I'll find some interesting spiritual applications and illustration. You gotta understand: I'm the guy who got pickpocketed in Prague in May 2005, and managed to create a three-part sermon series out of it.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

At last, Steven has a blog.

If you're a regular reader (especially of the comments on this blog), then you've seen me interact with Steven Nelson, one of my students. He finally took my advice and got himself a blog and has started posting. I encourage you to swing by and check it out. Of course, now Steven faces the challenge all of us bloggers face: keeping our blogs active.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sometimes I hate my blog.

There have been a few moments around the church this week that have caused me certain amounts of frustration, yet I find myself frustrated by one simple fact: I can't talk about those issues here.

Some of my blog's visitors are involved in ministry at other churches; you can related to many of my experiences, I'm sure. But many of the people who visit this blog ARE involved at my church: students, parents, other adults. I firmly believe in the principle of not griping or complaining around our leaders or students; peers in other places of ministry are the best "sponges" for my complaints.

So, all I can say is that I've been frustrated a few times this week, and I can't write about it. Which creates more frustration. Ugh.

Monday, December 11, 2006

This almost happened.

Sunday night was the second and final night of our church's annual Christmas production. I had produced several videos for the event, and I was upstairs running the media and sound, along with one of our adult leaders from the youth ministry. During the production, we had to swap CDs a few times, and after one of the switches, we nearly had a huge catastrophe: My hand apparently brushed against the CD player's power button. Mike and I both looked at each other, because both of us had heard a sound that we THOUGHT was the sound of the player turning off! Remarkably (miraculously, perhaps) the CD player didn't turn off. I'm not sure how I would have explained that one to the crowd, the choir director or my senior pastor. Yes, it would have been a moment I laughed about for years. But I'm still glad it didn't happen. I think.

Wish I was here.

This is so where I'd enjoy being today... Yosemite National Park, after a fresh round of weekend snowfall.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Don't try this at home.

This is a hilarious video that Marko from Youth Specialties posted over on his blog. Enjoy. But don't imitate. Especially if I'm baptizing you this Sunday.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The people have spoken.

Yes, they have spoken. Votes have been cast on which profile photo I should use. But will I heed the call of the people? Or will I ignore them, as if I'm the leader of a military coup d'etat?

Great service.

Last night was our United service with 3 other youth groups. We do this every five or six weeks, and it's always a great time. It's a cool way to build relationships with other youth pastors and ministries in our area, and it exposes students to the fact that every church is a little different, every church has its own personality.

When I was first approached about being a part of United, I was concerned: If our students spent time at other churches, are we going to lose them TO those churches? In some communities, this might happen. But I haven't seen it with the United groups at all. There's no attempt at stealing other students, and there really isn't a sense of competition about quality of programs, leaders, facilities or congregations. That's so cool to see and experience.

Last night was my turn to speak; the speaker is never the youth pastor at the host church. This being Christmas, we jumped into the topic of "What are you doing with Christmas?" Too often we ask the wrong questions at Christmas. We ask what people got, instead of what they gave. We ask how people got blessed, instead of how they blessed others. And we ask what people are doing FOR Christmas instead of what they're doing WITH Christmas.

Using the shepherds, Simeon and Anna as our models, we saw how Christmas should be a wonder-filled, magical, meaningful event in our lives -- but it should be something we share with others who don't know Jesus yet, and we need to recognize just how powerful it was that God would give His very best at Christmas.

We also had some fun with the students, pointing out how our image of the nativity scene isn't quite right. The shepherds and the wise men didn't show up on the same night. We don't know how many wise men there were; they presented 3 gifts, but the Bible doesn't say there were 3 wise men. The big display of angels happened in the fields with the shepherds, not around the stable. And there wasn't just one shepherd at the stable; the Bible is clear there was a whole group of them.

All in all, a great night! We host the next one, in February (no United in January), and I'm praying our warehouse renovation project will be completed by then...insulation, heat, carpet, new lights...mmmm. Much better than freezing in our metal building!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Which pic do I use?

OK, so my post the other day of my "new" photo has generated far too much conversation around my house, on my blog and in my in-box. To add to the fun, my friend Tom Hammond -- former YP at Harvest Christian Center in Turlock, CA, and now involved in ministry in Brazil -- has posted a poll on his blog to see if I should go with the "new" photo or the "old" one for my profile. You're welcome to participate, if you're thoroughly bored, or concerned about such things. Yes, Steven, that includes you.

Zealous parents.

Interesting column today from CW Nevius at the SF Chronicle. I'm not going to comment on it at all, but I'm sure one or two youth pastors out there have met parents like this.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Some meetings aren't fatal.

Tuesday is my big meeting day each week. The day begins at 8:30AM when I meet with my senior pastor to discuss all kinds of things, some of it ministry. We have our full staff meeting at 1PM, and lately I've been meeting with some of our creative team later in the afternoon as we make final preparations for our Christmas production. Tonight we had a drama team meeting -- a.k.a. practice -- to cap off the day. So, I spent close to 5 hours today in meetings.

But I'm not complaining (today, anyway). It was a productive day with lots of good discussion and dialogue and results. Today's meetings also came on the heels of a great gathering last night with the leaders of our Route 1 girls small groups. I've been here for 3 1/2 years, and we've always struggled with consistency and effectiveness in our youth small groups. But we have a dedicated group of women who are pouring themselves into the lives of our junior-highers, high-schoolers, and young adults. I left Monday evening's meeting encouraged, inspired, motivated, focused and energized. I like that kind of meeting.

Now we're just praying for a group of men to step forward to lead the guys! I know God's bringing them, and I know He'll make it all happen. I want it to happen NOW, but I also want it to happen WELL!

Catchphrase me if you can.

We all love a good catchphrase now and then, don't we? Go ahead. Nod your head in agreement. Well, it turns out that the folks at TV Land have so little to do -- or so many extra employees -- that they've compiled a list of the Top 100 TV Catchphrases.

I wasn't surprised by most of the entries. Homer Simpson's "D'Oh!" is there, of course. So are such no-brainers as "No soup for you!" from Seinfeld, "The tribe has spoken" from Survivor, "De plane! De plane!" from Fantasy Island, and "Bam!" from Emeril.

But a few caught my eye and made me go "hmmm." Such as "Denny Crane" from Boston Legal (I've never heard anyone but William Shatner use that line), "Ask not what your country can do for you..." (which is a great line from a great presidential speech, but on a different plane from the average TV catchphrase), and "One small step for man..." (lunar landings and TV sitcoms just seem too odd of a pairing).

In any case, it's an interesting assortment of memorable phrases, and good fodder for some kind of game or activity or trivia competition, perhaps.

The bigger picture.

I've gotten comments and emails already on my "pretty" picture. Glad to know I could add some humor to everyone's day! Just for kicks, here's the whole pastoral staff photo with some of our other leaders from our elementary school and preschool. Enjoy. And kudos to Geoff Voss for some great pics.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Post 100.

It really doesn't matter to me that it's taken me months to reach my 100th post, or that some people make 100 posts in a span of 3.2 days. But I've decided it's time to change my picture, and the only way I know how to do it is to post a photo within the blog and then link to that post. Or something like that.

Tweens are growing up fast.

Came across this interesting article online this weekend; just now getting around to posting it. It had some good perspectives on the changing world of tweens -- kids between 8 and 12 years old.

Some of the issues my generation dealt with (I'm 33) in high school are the issues facing today's middle school students. And the issues of my generation in middle school are now the issues for today's mid- to late elementary school age kids. This has all kinds of implications for any of us who work with teens, but it also affects people involved in children's ministries.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Let's go Jayhawks.

Just a week after a highly embarrassing loss to Oral Roberts University, my Kansas Jayhawks basketball team had an awesomely fun and exciting game Sunday night against Florida. This time KU came up the winner.

This was great for me for several reasons:
1. I'm a Jayhawks fan. My dad was teaching at KU when I was born.
2. I actually could watch the game. I have cable for the first time in awhile, so I actually could watch ESPN2.
3. It was good to see that the ORU loss was a fluke. This is particularly important because my former pastor (and good friend) Ron Eivaz is an ORU alum. He was quite proud of his alma mater last weekend.
4. My roommates got the chance to laugh at me when I was cheering for my fav team. Perhaps this was enough entertainment for them, without the actual game.
5. My Kansas City Royals give me little to cheer for these days, so at least one of my teams doesn't stink.
6. Maybe this is a sign that the Jayhawks won't fold in the first round of the NCAA tournament this year. Wow, that's my prayer.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Stuff for da house.

The day after Thanksgiving is a day of absolute insanity if you're anywhere near a shopping center or mall or grocery store or video rental or restaurant or Christmas tree stand or gas station or -- you get the picture.

Anyway, this morning I braved the crowds and went shopping. Kohl's had some killer prices on small kitchen appliances, which are needed in my new house. The line was loooooong but I got a big crock pot and a big griddle. Cool stuff. And because I have a home, I need more tools than just the screwdriver set that's been following me around for a few years. That meant stops at Home Depot, Lowe's and Orchard Supply Hardware. Found some good deals, but took a bit of hunting because the Turlock OSH store had already sold out on the stuff I wanted.

I stopped off at a few other places for DVDs and such, but came up empty. No great deals, and certainly nothing better than what I can find on, my favorite though highly addictive shoping website. (Don't worry, Josh, SYM is my #2 favorite shopping website.)

All told, a good day. And when those insane people were trampling security guards at 5AM, I was happily asleep. And safe.

The funny thing is, years ago I worked on the day after Thanksgiving, writing stories about these insane people. Which meant I had to be insane and join them at 6AM, with one of our newspaper's photographers. People ask me if I ever miss working at a newspaper. On a day like today? No way!

Steven needs a blog.

I have some awesome students. Many of them are funny. A few are funnier than me. Which really isn't that tough.

If you look through some recent posts, you'll see numerous comments from Steven Nelson. This is one of my students. Perhaps we can refer to him as the infamous, crazy, dependable yet unpredictable Steven Nelson. Or something like that.

Anyway, Steven should get a blog (if his parents say it's OK, of course). He ALWAYS has something to say. Even if it's right in the middle of a sermon. Or a leadership meeting. Or a missions prep meeting. Or a purchase at Wal-Mart. Or whatever. Steven is never at a lack for words, whenever I'm around him. His mother says otherwise, but that's probably because he's 15.

OK, Steven, there ya go. A whole blog post about you. You're the first student to get that treatment. Satisfied?

His answer will be "no."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving.

Hope you're having a great Thanksgiving -- or hope you HAD a great one. I'm down in Turlock visiting my mom, my brother and friends. Just got down with our big feast. I've a strong suspicion some leftovers will be accompanying me home Saturday. Looked through the newspaper ads. May get up semi-early for some sales. Now that I own a house, I'm trying to round up tools and other things that are good to have around the place. But I won't camp out in front of Wal-Mart, don't worry. Anyway, I trust this is a blessed, relaxing week for each of you, your family and your friends!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Memorable and meaningful church.

Yesterday, I had an extended lunch with our student leaders and some of our adult leaders for Route 1 Student Ministries. We had great conversation and dialogue, and holding the lunch at my new house added to the relationship-building dynamic.

Much of our time was spent discussing the idea of how we can make our youth services more memorable and more meaningful. It wasn't a conversation about how to play more games or do more goofy stuff or entertain students. It was genuinely focused on how we can structure our services to allow God to work AND to leave lasting memories in students' minds.

I was surprised by how many of our team members remembered two specific sermons from the last year or so. One was called "United or Untied: I Make the Difference" about unity within the body of Christ, His Church. The other was about how God wants to open doors in students' lives and help them overcome and move ahead. For both sermons, we gave things away to the students: a piece of a Jenga game for United/Untied, and a blank key for the open door sermon.

Both were small, simple things, yet the "take home" element allowed students to remember the topics AND the main application point. The United/Untied sermon was from August 2005! Usually, I can't even come CLOSE to remembering what I preached on 15 months ago, let alone what someone else shared. But these students remembered, and the simple message has left a mark on their lives.

I know I get visitors of all kinds to this site: students, parents, family members, other youth pastors, ministry friends. If you have a thought on this subject -- making a service more memorable and meaningful -- I'd love to hear from you. You can comment below (even if you don't have a Blogger account), or fire off an email (

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bought it on eBay.

I've never bought anything on eBay before. I never had an account, never really had an interest, never really wanted to get involved.

This weekend, I gave in.

In my first taste of Ebay life, I was the winning bidder on an item posted by the fine folks down at Simply Youth Ministry. They post items from time to time, with all the proceeds benefiting an international charity that helps people in the Third World become sulf-sustaining. So it's a good cause.

Anyway, I decided to bid on the galleys for Doug Fields' new book, "What Matters Most." I have a copy of the book, but with my editing and publishing background, I thought the galleys would be a nice complement to the hard copy of the book.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A funny thing happened...

So, I'm im Wal-Mart earlier today buying some last-minute items for our church's Outreach Celebration (a.k.a. missions banquet). I'm there with one of my students. We needed to buy name tags and Sharpie pens for each table at the banquet. We quickly find our stuff, we wait in line at the cashier, and when she scans my first pack of Sharpies, she does the unthinkable.

She asks for my ID!

I'm not sure if I've ever been carded before. I can understand needing to verify my age if I was buying, say, cans of spray paint or vials of pain medicine or buckets of Sylvester Stallone movies.

But Sharpies? Is this Wal-Mart's attempt the thwart the sniffing habits of our local teenagers? By far, this was the oddest moment of my weekend. And if I hadn't had a witness, people might not have believed the story.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Good times, PDYM style.

Had lunch over in Vacaville today with a group of youth pastors, as part of the PDYM (Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry) national luncheons happening all week. Jeremy White from Valley Church of Vacaville hosted, and did a great job. Kinda reminded me of Josh Griffin. Only with fewer children.

I'm involved with a couple of local groups of youth pastors in our area, but it was good to connect with an entirely new and different group of leaders. Most of the folks today were from the Vacaville/Solano County area, but a few of us made slightly longer drives; about 45 minutes for me.

The event's highlight had to be a "degrees of separation" revelation for me. I attended college at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. TWO OTHER GUYS at today's event attended college in the same town: one at Baptist Bible College, and another at Central Bible College. Evangel and CBC are both affiliated with my denomination.

Ah, but it gets better. The CBC grad, John Buckner, is good friends with Daniel Matsunaga, a missionary-in-training to Japan that our church supports. And the BBC grad, Travis, has a girlfriend who goes to church in Turlock -- the town where I grew up!

On the serious side, it was good to get together with a bunch of people from all sorts of denominations and backgrounds, and spend time enjoying the conversation, company and community.

Oh, they gave away some free stuff. And of course, I didn't win. I never win stuff from Simply Youth Ministry giveaways.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Thoughts from YS, Part 1

So, I spent the weekend down in Anaheim for the West Coast edition of Youth Specialties' National Youth Workers Conference. Overall, it was a good time, for several key reasons.

1. Let's face it. It's always good to leave town for a few days of evaluation, encouragement, challenge and soul-nourishing.

2. It's always fun to hang out with people I like spending time around, including my buddy Bill Rath, who's fortunate enough to have an awesome wife who works for Marriott hotels.

3. It's always cool to win free stuff. Well, I didn't win any free stuff. But lots of other people did. One of these days I'll win an iPod.

4. It's always awesome to reconnect with folks. Had lunch on Saturday with a friend; she and I were in the same youth group growing up and haven't seen much of each other since high school days of yore.

It's the end of a long day, so I won't write many details about the conference, but here are a few memorable moments:
  • Meeting Kurt Johnston, the junior high pastor at Saddleback Church in Orange County. He's shorter than I thought he'd be. And for the record, he said I'm taller than he thought I'd be.
  • Hearing YS' Marko and David Crowder discuss (on stage, in front of 3,500 people) who was the peanut butter and who was the jelly in this "peanut butter and jelly sandwich" relationship between YS and the David Crowder Band.
  • Having Doug Fields remember me. OK, I'm sure there's SOME kind of pride issue here that God needs to be working out of my system. But come on, I've been in youth ministry for less than 4 years and Doug Fields remembered me. That feels good.
  • Eating lunch with Josh Griffin. Oops, that one DIDN'T happen. Oh well. For the record folks, Josh missed someone ELSE buying lunch for him. Don't think that happens too often.
  • Seeing comedian Ron Pearson pull his "balance a ladder on my chin" stunt. I knew it was coming; I saw the video blog from my friend Evan Mattei. But STILL, I was amazed to see him do it in person.
  • Walking into my 8-hour critical concern session an hour late and finding out we were ONLY on page 2 of the notes. This was a highlight of the weekend, hearing some life-giving truths and ideas from Dan Webster. Well worth the drive down and the extra cost.
  • Driving 6.5 hours in my car alone while listening to "Good to Great," written and read by Jim Collins. I decided a book on CD would keep me awake better than my iPod music. Another good investment that fed a weekend of new thinking and new desires in my heart.
  • Spending a few days almost completely disconnected from my computer and the Internet. I should do that more often.
OK, I'll call it quits for tonight. I'm heading to a PDYM lunch event Thursday but maybe later in the day I can post some more thoughts from NYWC.

Prayers for my mom.

Thanks to everyone who's been praying for my mom, Ruth. This week is her latest round of chemotherapy as she battles lymphoma cancer.

Overall, she continues to do well. After her last round of treatment three weeks ago, she experienced a little more fatigue than in her previous rounds. I think it's likely because she missed one cycle (her port, which the docs use for injecting her with chemo, had problems and a new one had to be installed) and therefore had gone 6 weeks without her body handling the chemo. I stayed at her house Monday night on my way home from YS in Anaheim.

Thanks for all your prayers. They mean the world to her. The cancer has gone away from her chest and her abdomen, and it's continuing to diminish in her lypmhnodes. Yes, chemo is working, but we also know that prayers and faith in God's healing power are working, too!

Yes, I'm alive.

Hey gang, I am still here. Sorta. It's been a very busy week. Moving in. Heading to Anaheim for the National Youth Workers Conference. Visiting my mom on the way home. Getting ready for our big missions/outreach vision event. I'll try posting some real content late tonight or sometime Thursday. For the 3 of you who read this.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Moving insanity.

The last few days have been a blur. I got the keys to my house on Friday, and this weekend was move-in time. One of my roommates and one of my students drove down with me Saturday morning to pick up some furniture at my mom's house in Turlock. On our way back, we stopped at the IKEA store in West Sacramento to buy a few things.

At this point, everything's going fine.

We get to the house. Some others show up to help unload. Boxes are being carried. Stuff is being unloaded. Furniture is being moved into the right rooms.

Then we hit a snag. The fridge won't fit through any of the doors.

You see, my house was built in 1957. The fridge my awesome mom found for me at a garage sale is, well, a little newer. And bigger. Which is good, for a house with 4 bachelor guys.

But the fridge wouldn't fit.

Finally, we came up with this plan: We removed the door from its hinges, we removed the fridge door (it's a side-by-side, and we couldn't remove the freezer side because it has a water line to the door. So, then 4 of us managed to hoist the fridge up two steps between the garage and the kitchen, swing the open-door freezer side in first, then turn the fridge so it would move through the doorway.

It worked, and now we're enjoying a nice big fridge with plenty of room for milk. One of my roomies drinks nonfat. I drink 1%. Another drinks 2%. And the fourth drinks whole milk. Pathetic, huh.

Whenever I sell this house, the fridge might just stay with it.

BTW, the pic up's a view of my office today, after I've cleared out some stuff, moved other stuff, and awaiting still more stuff. Fun.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Big day arrives.

This was the day I've been looking forward to for several weeks. I signed my life away -- more or less -- to buy my first home. Yes! My days of being a renter will soon end. Hallelujah. I'll post some pics later this week or this weekend. It looks like I should be able to start moving in either Friday or Saturday, which is super cool. Good youth service tonight, after a slightly rocky start. God's good, eh? Hope your day was good, too!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Have you voted yet?

Any candidate or campaign or ballot measure trying to grab my attention is wasting its time. I've already voted. Twice. Just kidding; this isn't Chicago, and I'm not dead yet. But I have cast my ballot, thanks to this wonderful thing called permanent absentee voter. My absentee ballots are sent to me automatically, which makes voting a much easier process. Only catch: If I change my mind between now and November 7 on any candidate or issue, I'm out of luck. Unless I can convince some poor soul to vote the way I should have.

Me and names.

I got an email from a friend this afternoon, writing me about my post on forgetting the guy's name at the grocery store. For the benefit of this friend and all the billions of other readers (OK, dozens at best), let me offer a more detailed explanation of me and names.

I used to be bad at remembering names. This is rather funny, seeing how I used to work in newspapers. But it's true. Then I moved up here to Antelope, and one of my prayers was that God would help me remember more people' names. When I arrived, I knew a grand total of 4 people in this church, so I had to start from scratch. Remarkably, I found that I could remember students' names. A lot of names. Seriously, a lot.

To this day, I can still recall some of the students who were attending here when I first arrived (but don't come here anymore). I've had students who came once or twice a year because of visiting family members in town -- and I'll still remember their name the next year. Sometimes a kid will remind me of their first name, and I'll immediately recall their last name.

So, Sunday's grocery store incident -- not sure if it's a significant event or not. Lately, my mind hasn't been AS sharp at retaining names. Perhaps I'm reaching my capacity with names. Or maybe I haven't been doing enough work on my end to recall names. Who knows. I'm not worried ... yet.

Happy anniversary to me.

On this day 11 years ago -- October 23, 1995 -- I started working at my first post-college job. Over the last 11 years, I've worked at 3 newspapers (including the one pictured above), 2 churches, a magazine start-up in Greece, and I spent a few months unemployed. And I have absolutely no idea WHY I can remember the date of my first day at my first job. I'm just weird like that.

Hate it when that happens.

So, I'm in a local grocery store Sunday night after a full day at the church. I arrived at the church around 7:30AM that day, and I never went home during the day. It's around 9PM, and I've stopped by the store to get some stuff for dinner. I'm paying for my groceries, and I'm leaving the line and heading toward the exit. I realize that the guy behind me in line looks familiar. But I can't remember his name.

And we didn't make eye contact. He just seemed familiar. I'm walking toward the exit, then outside, then to my car. I keep trying to peg his name and face. Then I realize: He and his family briefly attended our church a couple of years ago. What was his name, what was his name?

I'm loading my stuf into my car. What was his name? I'm moving around to my door. What was his name? Didn't it start with an "M"? I get my key into the ignition. Was it Mike? Matt? Yea, I think it's Matt. I turn the ignition. I shift into reverse. Matt... Hmm. Matt... Hmm. I leave my parking space and begin to pull away from the store.

Then I remember his whole name, and his wife's name. But I was about 3 minutes too late. Ugh. I hate it when that happens. I really do. It could have been a great chance to reconnect with someone, see how they're doing. Instead, it's a reminder that while I have a LOT of names stashed somewhere in my brain, I need to keep working on my recall.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Those traveling blues.

Great column today on SFGate (website for the SF Chronicle) from the editor of their travel section. It's the over-traveled traveler version of "You Might Be a Redneck" (even though the Chron would never admit it, I'm sure). I got quite a few laughs from the column, including these highlights:
    When you find a 3-day-old copy of USA Today and read every word, including the NHL transactions, it may be time to go home. ...

    When you stop Americans on the streets of Venice and ask them if they know who was eliminated this week on "American Idol," it may be time to go home. ...

    When you begin to develop a disturbing obsession with CNN International's Richard Quest, it may be time to go home. ...

    When you flip through the SkyMall catalog page by page, and there's not a single remote-controlled blimp or turbo nose-hair trimmer you haven't seen before, it may be time to go home. ...

    When you are drawn toward the Golden Arches as if by tractor beam, it may be time to go home.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ready for 'Indy 4'?

There's been buzz about this for years, but it appears a fourth Indiana Jones flick really, truly is in the works. Not sure how I feel about this. I thought "Last Crusade" neatly wrapped up the trilogy; adding a fourth chapter feels like Douglas Adams writing a trilogy in five parts. Hmmm.

Anyway, here's the latest on the Indiana Jones saga, courtesy of your monopolistic friends at The Associated Press and CNN-Time-Warner-Etc.
    ROME, Italy (AP) -- Harrison Ford says he feels "fit to continue" to play Indiana Jones despite growing older.

    Ford, 64, said at the inaugural Rome Film Festival on Friday that he was delighted to team up again with directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas for the film. Lucas co-wrote and executive produced the earlier films, which Spielberg directed.

    "We did three films that stay within the same block of time. We need to move on for artistic reasons and obvious physical reasons," Ford said at a news conference. "I feel fit to continue and bring the same physical action."

How safe are Macs?

Are Macs safer just because fewer people use them? Or are they inherently safer than their evil cousins with Windows? Interesting thoughts in this article from CNN:
    One reason Apple has so far been shielded from nasty code is because its market share is relatively small.

    Apple accounted for 3.3 percent of total U.S. computer sales in 2004, and for 4.3 percent in 2005, according to technology research firm International Data Corporation.

    Experts say these low numbers, and the unlikelihood that Apple's share will ever account for much higher than the low double digits, is one reason why the Mac will remain relatively safe. These days, they say, viruses are written more for money than fame.

    Taking over a Windows-based computer and using it to send millions of pieces of spam, often with advertising or scams attached, to other Window's machines can generate big money . Writing a Mac-based virus, which could only target other Macs, isn't nearly as profitable.

    But perhaps a bigger reason for Apple's seemingly safe position is the stability of Mac OS X.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Christians and the Bush White House.

Great article on Time's website about the interaction of Christians and the Bush White House. It's a book excerpt from David Kuo, who was the No. 2 person in the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.
    George W. Bush, the man, is a person of profound faith and deep compassion for those who suffer. But President George W. Bush is a politician and is ultimately no different from any other politician, content to use religion for electoral gain more than for good works. Millions of Evangelicals may share Bush's faith, but they would protect themselves--and their interests--better if they looked at him through the same coldly political lens with which he views them.
Take a few minutes to read the excerpt. I'm sure the book will cause its share of discussion and dialogue -- as it should.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Some pics from Harvest Festival.

Here's just a sample of the pix from this weekend's Harvest Festival.

Harvest Festival was a hit.

OK, so I think I'm largely recovered from our fifth annual Harvest Festival. Usually on the Sunday after the event, I'm wiped out. But this time, I found myself less stressed in the week before, on the day of, and now the day after. Perhaps it was because we were more organized in most of the areas, had more volunteers in place, and we didn't encounter any major last-minute problems.

As best as we know, there were somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 people here on Saturday. Our parking crew counted somewhere between 800 and 900 cars (I haven't gotten a final figure yet), and I don't think many people arrived solo. Most of the vehicles had at least 2, 3 or 4 people in them. We know that we served around 2,000 hot dogs and 2,000 portions of nachos; people were asked to pick either a hot dog or nachos.

Seeing the smile on the face of a kid is awesome, and we saw hundreds of those smiles Saturday. We don't charge for any of the pumpkins, or foor, or games, or crafts, or facepainting, or bounce houses, or entertainment. We just want to be a blessing to our community, and I think we accomplished that once again this year. It's awesome to hear and see the amazement of the guests when they realize we aren't charging them for any of this stuff.

Our volunteers are they key to the success of the festival each year. The youth ministry runs the carnival games, and for much of the day, I had more volunteers than actual places for them to work! That has NEVER happened on this scale before. We were a little shorthanded in our parking crew, with the crafts tables, and at the bounce houses, but other volunteers came through and carried the ball for us.

Could the weather have been any better? Probably not. Sunny skies. Highs in the 70s. A breeze at times. No smoke in the air from foothill fires. No risk of rain. No chill. No 100-degree record-setting temps. We've had those challenges in recent years. But 2006 will go down as the perfect weather year.

One of our TV stations came out and did a live remote around 9:50AM. I had several people -- both among our volunteers and among the guests -- say that they saw me on TV. That's always a weird feeling. I've given TV interviews before, but this is the first time I was on LIVE television. I could have said ANYTHING and it would have been broadcast right at that moment. Scary! The clip is online; check it out.

So, overall, this ranks up there as probably the best or tied for the best Harvest Festival I've been part of here at Antelope. We've done it five times; I wasn't on staff yet for the first event.

Let's do a quick score card of whether the event was a success:
We had some newer people involved, but many new families chose to just attend. We'll work on them for next year!
I'm not complaining about the size at all. One year we had at least 7,000+ so I guess that remains my standard for crowd size.
This was a new event for us. We took families' photos, and we'll now send them a copy of the photo, along with information about the church, if they're looking for a church home. We felt it was a low-key, non-intrusive way to gather some data for follow-up without feeling like a bait-and-switch. We needed more volunteers in this area, and we need to work out some kinks in the process, but good job for a first round, and we had more than 260 families get their photo taken!
Bands did a great job. Only reason for the lower grade is because I forgot to make sure we had bought watermelons for our watermelon eating contest. Oops!
The event ended at 4PM. I was the last person to leave the church campus; I left at 6PM. Enough said.
We had strong numbers in both of our AM services today. That's a contrast from other years, when we actually see a DROP on the day after because everyone's so tired. In fact, our 11AM service had a larger crowd than we've seen in several weeks!

So, based on all those criteria, I'd say we did a great job on Saturday. The team did well, people were blessed, our volunteers were engaged, and the bar keeps getting raised higher and higher!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

My brief moment of fame.

OK, I know I should be in bed. But I got hunting around online and found the archive of our brief TV interview today. You can check out the video here. It should take you right to the video. If not, let me know and I'll see if the link has been modified.

UPDATE: If you arrived here thanks to Josh Griffin's link, and you want to see some photos from the event, please go here. And if you want a longer text post on the event, go here.

Awesome ministry day today.

Today was our fifth annual Harvest Festival. It was a great day, by almost any definition you can offer. We had somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 people show up (we count cars, but not individuals, so that's a rough estimate). We had scores of volunteers, including newer people who are getting connected through serving. A local TV station came out in the morning and did a live remote, giving me 90 seconds of live TV fame (wearing my partially obscured orange "Simply Junior High" T-shirt, no less). My mom was feeling well enough to make the drive up to Antelope; it's the first time she's seen our Harvest Festival in the four years I've been involved. The weather was perfect; sunny skies, highs in the 70s, light breeze at times.

There's a lot more to share, but right now, I'm totally exhausted. I'll do some more blogging on Sunday, and post a bunch of fun pics from the day. Now? I'm headed to bed.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

I hate being sick.

Ugh, I hate sickness. Got hit with a head cold Tuesday evening. Kept me in bed most of Wednesday. Pushed through the youth service that evening. Then went to store. Bought stuff. OJ. Drugs. Soups. Feel a bit better today. Need to feel better for Saturday. Thousands of people. Hundreds of volunteers. Great day of outreach. Perfect weather forecast. One TV station plans a live remote in the morning. Busy day. Worth it all.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

I love pumpkins.

This weekend, thousands of people will come to our church grounds for our fifth annual Harvest Festival. It's a fun time each year. We don't sell anything. It's all free to the community: free food, games, crafts, hayrides, petting zoo, bounce houses, music and entertainment. And on top of all that, we give away thousands of free pumpkins -- some grown in our own pumpkin patch, others donated or purchased.

This past Sunday was our pumpkin delivery day. These are a few photos from that fun afternoon. We had more volunteers show up for the unloading than we've had in the 4 festivals I've been here. That should be a good sign for volunteers this weekend!

Our senior pastor really believes in this event. It's a churchwide thing, and our reason for it all being free is to create a living illustration of God's love for us: Freely we've received, freely we give.

If you're in the Sacramento area this weekend, you're invited! Or if you have friends or relatives up this way, tell them to swing by for a day of fun!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Onward Christian Voters.

Interesting article today from The Washington Post about evangelical Christians and how we're all voting next month.

    A nationwide poll of 1,500 registered voters released yesterday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of white evangelicals are inclined to vote for Republican congressional candidates in the midterm elections, a 21-point drop in support among this critical part of the GOP base.

    Even before the (former U.S. Rep. Mark) Foley scandal, the portion of white evangelicals with a "favorable" impression of the Republican Party had fallen sharply this year, from 63 percent to 54 percent, according to Pew polls.

    In the latest survey, taken in the last 10 days of September and the first four days of October, the percentage of evangelicals who think that Republicans govern "in a more honest and ethical way" than Democrats has plunged to 42 percent, from 55 percent at the start of the year.
Fun article to read, seeing how my closest friends know that I'm a diehard moderate who isn't registered with any political party. Maybe it's the former journalist in me that just loves to see a nice, messy, newsworthy election cycle. Maybe.

No Fields for me?

Wow, I was just scrolling through the list of workshops at the Youth Specialties' National Youth Workers Convention in Anaheim next month, and I realized something quite scary.

I might not attend a single workshop by Doug Fields this year.

He's doing the First Two Years in Ministry topic in Critical Concerns. I'm going to a different CC.

He's doing Small Groups from Start to Finish. Did that last year in Sacramento.

He's doing Beginner's Guide to PDYM. Been to its equivalent, I'm guessing, at the Purpose-Driven Church conference back in the spring.

He's doing Crafting Messages That Matter. Quite certain I went to that two years ago in Anaheim.

He's doing Marriage, Ministry and Family Q&A. Likely gonna skip that one, unless there's an arranged dating element to it.

Of course, I might still sneak into one of the sessions for a chance to win some free stuff from the gang at SYM. How can you say no to a chance at free stuff?

Just up the road.

Today is Friday, October 6. Something big may be happening 3 weeks from today, and I'm so looking forward to it! And a week later, I'll be down in Anaheim for the National Youth Workers Conference, hanging with my buddy Bill Rath from Richmond, those crazy kids from Simply Youth Ministry, and at least 319 other people. Sweet.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Jesus Draft.

We launched a new, month-long series tonight for our midweek youth services. Our underlying theme for the series is discipleship, so we're taking a look at the first 12 disciples. What did Jesus see in them? Would we have picked them as our first 12 "players" if we were in charge of a spiritual "draft"?

For this first night, we had some fun with a skit featuring two of our students portraying sports analysts who offered their insights and opinions on each of the 12 disciples. We also talked about David Carr, the Houston Texans QB who was in a video clip we showed last week. He's a California product (from down in Bakersfield), and when he was drafted in the NFL, his high school alma mater created a web page with comments and notes from former teachers and coaches.

Great quote from one of the coaches:
    "Dave, we all knew after the Bakersfield High passing league tournament that you were going to be something special. The first time I met you, all 5-4 105 pounds I knew you would be a number one draft pick in the National Football League (YEA RIGHT)."
Just goes to show that we never know what that 5'4" guy (or 4'2" girl) might become -- not just in areas like athletics, arts, or academics, but also spiritually. God looks at each of us and sees potential. Jesus saw potential in his first 12 draft choices. He knew they had weaknesses, but He also saw who they could become. He sees the same thing in each of us, even if we're just "jars of clay," as Paul wrote.

Should be a fun series!

PS: I know the Jesus football pic is absolutely tasteless. But somehow it seemed an appropriate image for this post.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Napoleon's a Mormon?

Apparently, Jon Heder -- the guy who played Napoleon Dynamite -- is a Mormon. And the writers and directors of that flick are Mormons. Wow. Wouldn't have guessed that, but I guess it's also not a surprise, considering how "clean" the movie is. Interesting.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Fire Buddy Bell.

I'm hoping to soon look at this list and find the name of Royals Manager Buddy Bell there. God, please answer my prayer. Please let my baseball team not suck. Please!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Minnesota owes KC money.

I'm pretty steamed about this one. As many of you are aware, I'm a Kansas City Royals fan. Why any sane adult would root for this baseball team is beyond me. Perhaps being born near KC would help. Going to college a few hours from KC could be an extra motivation. Maybe it was that bottle of Coke that "Mean" George Brett gave me after that game back in '79.

I digress.

The Royals lost 100 games this season. That means they only won 62. I should be proud of my team's mediocrity. I should extol the virtues of this sub-par, underperforming, underpaying, stuck-in-a-small-market squad of troopers. And I would. Except that they failed in their ultimate goal this year.

They weren't the worst team in baseball. They were ALMOST the worst team. The folks down in Tampa Bay -- they still play MLB in Florida? -- walked away with that dubious title, thanks to the Devil Rays' 61-101 record.

One game difference. That's it, basically. One more loss by the Royals, and they hold a tie for the worst record of 2006. Two more losses -- an average weekend for most of the season -- and the title is theirs alone.

Tampa Bay? Right idea. Go on a 4-game losing streak to end the season.

Kansas City? Offer a glimpse of hope to its hopeless and hapless fans with a 3-game winning streak. Oh, and these 3 wins weren't over just any podunk team from Pittsburgh or Arizona. No sir, these were the Detroit Tigers. This was the team battling for the AL Central Division crown against those pesty Minnesota Twinkies. The Royals won THREE STRAIGHT GAMES against the Tigers -- in Detroit!

And so, the Royals earn the distinction of having the 2nd worst record in all of baseball this year. Such a shame, when they could have been the best of the worst.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Royals update.

Well, my Royals avoided the 100-loss mark with a win on Wednesday night... just a few games left in the season...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A horrible baseball team.

In just a few hours, my Kansas City Royals have the opportunity to lose their 100th game of the season. If they hit this illustrious mark, it will be their third straight season of losing at least 100 games, and apparently they will become the 11th team in Major League history to have three-straight games with at least 100 losses.

Do I cheer my team to history? Do I congratulate them on their successfully horrid season?

Or do I sit in the corner and cry for my team?

Or do I change teams?


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Busy weekend.

Well, it's just past 9PM here on Sunday night, and I'm about ready to go home in a few minutes. Today was our fall ministry faire -- we call it Liftoff Sunday -- and then we had our annual church business meeting tonight. What a day.

Our team did a great job with our display: We made a cube from PVC pipe and then used some material around the edges. Then we hung pics, quotes, verses, explanations, and all kinds of other good stuff for people to learn more about Route 1 Student Ministries. Our other ministries did a sweet job, too, and we had lots of energy and activity between our morning services as people visited the booths.

Tonight we pulled off a 90-minute business meeting. My apologies if your church's go much longer than that. For us, the coolest part of the night came when the membership approved restructuring our long-term debt in a way that will allow us to do some capital improvements on our church facilities.

Big news for us: Our youth warehouse is one of the higher-priority items on the list! That means instead of freezing in the winter and baking in the summer, we'll have CLIMATE CONTROL and maybe some CARPET on the floor. So sweet. We have a cool warehouse for the youth, but it's basically just a metal structure with NO insulation or HVAC. In the winter, you can see your breath. In the summer, it can get past 100 inside the building. So tonight's decision is a definite blessing for our students!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Fire away.

Hi all, I've changed my settings in response to some emails from friends. ANYONE can now post comments; you don't have to be a blogger. If you are "anonymous" in your posts, I simply ask that you include your name in your post somewhere. Danke.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Free your hands.

Ahh, the beauty of California. Because none of us out here are smart enough to think for ourselves and make logical decisions on sensible items, our wonderful legislators have stepped in to help us make wise choices.

    Drivers in California will need an ear piece or speaker to use their cell phones in the car under a bill signed Friday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    Motorists could face fines of up to $50 if they violate the law, which makes it an infraction to hold a cell phone while driving. It takes effect July 1, 2008, and is similar to laws in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Washington D.C.

    A first offense will be punishable by a $20 fine, while subsequent violations will carry $50 fines. Calls made to emergency-service providers are exempt.

    "The simple fact is, it's dangerous to talk on your cell phone while driving," Schwarzenegger said during a bill-signing ceremony at an Oakland hotel, citing highway accident figures. "So getting people's hands off their phones and onto their steering wheels is going to make a big difference in road safety."

    Cell-phone use is the top cause of accidents triggered by distracted drivers, according to California Highway Patrol statistics dating to 2001.

    A Harvard University study released in 2002 estimated that about 5 percent of U.S. traffic accidents are caused by a driver talking on a cell phone.
I find that I get just as distracted talking with a hands-free device in my car, as when I'm driving without one. The main difference, of course, is that it's really, really tough to drive a stick-shift when you're holding on to the phone, or cradling it against your shoulder.

Silly law, perhaps, but I can understand the rationale behind it. Still, I wonder if it's the most important thing for cops to be doing: pulling over drivers who violate the law.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

My struggle with stuff.

I know I'm not alone in this battle. You face it, too. Maybe you're better at defeating it, or holding it at bay. Maybe you learned some hard lessons years ago, and it's no longer a struggle for you. Or maybe you find yourself tempted just as I get tempted on a regular basis.

I like stuff.

You know what I'm talking about. Things. Toys. Gadgets. DVDs. Books. Souvenirs. Stuff. I have way too much stuff. I have too much stuff in my office. I have too much stuff in my bedroom. I have too much stuff in my storage unit (which I rent, of course, because I can't fit all my stuff into my apartment).

My latest temptation in the War Against Stuff comes from my friends at Apple. They released new iPods this week, and for the first time in a long time, I'm tempted to buy a new iPod. Granted, my iPod works fine. It's white, it has a B&W screen, and it "only" holds 20GB of stuff. I have more music on my computer than it can hold, so routinely I have to shuffle things around to make room for a new CD or new tracks I bought on iTunes.

Now they have an 80GB iPod. That IS the size of my hard drive. AND they have an itty-bitty iPod shuffle that looks like it could be swallowed by a young child if you're not careful.

Do I actually NEED either of these iPods? Of course not. But that's the point, isn't it? So much of our stuff is driven by things other than needs -- or our stuff is sold to us by people who've convinced us that we have a perceived need. I need a new house. I need a new car. I need a better computer. I need new clothes. I need a new cell. Need. Need. Need.

    "So I tell you, don't worry about everyday life-whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn't life consist of more than food and clothing? Look at the birds. They don't need to plant or harvest or put food in barns because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are. Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Of course not.
    "And why worry about your clothes? Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don't work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won't he more surely care for you? You have so little faith!
    "So don't worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.
    "So don't worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today's trouble is enough for today."
    Matthew 6:25-34

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I'm a Survivor.

So, the season premiere of "Survivor" is less than 24 hours away, and everyone seems to be abuzz with activity about this thing. I've already made comments on my own blog about this, and I was involved in a lovely back-and-forth on YS Marko's blog around the same time.

Needless to say, the plan to divide contestants by race is designed to attact viewers. I'd be comfortable guessing that tomorrow's episode will be the strongest first-night episode the show has seen in many seasons, maybe ever. It's a TV program. They pander to our most basic instincts in the hope that we'll sit there, glued to the idiot box for 60 minutes (44 per episode if you wait until it comes out on DVD).

Tonight, I was scrolling through the SF Chronicle's website, one of my usual haunts, when I come across yet another commentary on the show. Consider these words from columnist CW Nevius:

    In short, it has become this week's hot TV topic. And that's exactly, critics say, what "Survivor" creator Mark Burnett and the CBS network were hoping for.

    Linda Holmes, a Minnesota attorney who writes "Survivor" critiques for the popular Web site Television Without Pity, said this is the cultural equivalent of watching contestants eat bugs. (A common challenge on the show.)

    "Look," Holmes added, "Burnett is a guy that specializes in making people uncomfortable. And this is a topic that will make people uncomfortable."

    Maybe so, others say, but what's the point? "Survivor" host Jeff Probst has been trying to make this year's show sound as educational as possible. In interviews, he's even suggested that this is a "social experiment."

    "You mean like segregation was a social experiment?" asks Lisa Navarrete, a vice president with the National Council of La Raza, the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. "We tried that social experiment. It doesn't work."

    Oh, c'mon, you say. Lighten up. Even Navarrete admits that "it's not the end of the world; it's just a TV show." So what are we getting so upset about?

    Actually, most experts agree, the issue isn't race. It is stereotyping. ...
Wow. Stereotyping on a "reality" TV program. Please forgive me for a moment, because I'm about ready to type some stuff in all caps AND bold (!), in an attempt to communicate my frustration with the stupidity of all this.


OK, I'll step off my soap box for a moment. I'm just annoyed by people who think a show like "Survivor" should dish out something more than entertainment. That's like expecting deep social commentary from "Desperate Housewives" or a solution to world hunger on "The Office." Come on, folks, it's entertainment.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sept 11 thought.

I may blog more extensively late tonight on the Sept 11 anniversary arriving tomorrow. I may not. Just not sure if I want to attempt to say something meaningful about an event that lacked meaning. How anyone could cause such pain and suffering to families and cities and nations -- it's completely beyond me. I cried a lot that night after the attacks, but I don't know if I ever had a truly cathartic experience. I was working in newspapers back then, and we had daily deadlines, hourly updates, new turns, new twists. Not sure if I ever took the time I should have to let it all really, really sink it -- and not sure if I want to take the time to do it 5 years later.

Anyway, here's my simple thought, which will offend some, but I hope it causes you to think. Has our current administration made our country safer since that day? Well, regardless of your answer, here's one argument I reject: The evidence that our efforts have been worthwhile can be found in the fact that the U.S. hasn't been directly attacked since that day.

Why do I reject that argument? Simple: It was 8 years between the first attack on the World Trade Center and the one that ultimately brought them down. We all know NOW that the seeming quiet of 8 years meant we were any safer. Just a thought.

Long silence.

Hey all, sorry for the long period of silence! Last week was a busy week around the church, and then I went to a friend's wedding on Friday night. Moderately acceptable excuses, I realize, but I offer them nonetheless.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Observant. Very observant.

Overheard Monday evening inside Seattle's Best Coffee in a local Border's:
"Did Starbucks start the market?" one employee to a colleague.

Where were you when you heard?

So, last night I'm sitting around with my roommates, and we get talking about Steve Irwin's demise. We wondered: Will this be a defining moment for today's kids? Will it be their Pearl Harbor, their JFK, their MLK Jr, their Nixon resigns, their Challenger, their 9-11? Will it be seared into their collective mindset? Share your thoughts.

And share your thoughts on whether we should all get to watch the video where Steve Irwin is fatally stabbed by a stingray.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Some camping tales.

One of the most interesting people I met last week in Yosemite was a bus driver. He was working in Yosemite Valley for the summer, and during the rest of the year he's a veteran bus driver (10 years) for the L.A. Unified School District. Needless to say, spending time on a hybrid-powered bus in Yosemite surrounded by families and hikers was a nice change of pace for the guy!

Unlike some of the flight attendants for Southwest Airlines, this guy was funny. His funniest bit was the fact that we were riding around on his bus at night, in the dark -- and he's originally from Transylvania. Entertaining, light-hearted guy. He speaks several languages and really seems to enjoy being around people.

But still, that Transylvania thing got a little weird -- especially because he didn't turn on the bus' interior lights whenever he made a stop. The other drivers did, but not the guy from Transylvania. Hmmm.


WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON JOURNAL ENTRY: "There must be an unwritten (or written) law that ppl should exchange pleasantries while hiking. It must be somewhere in Hammurabi's Law or the Magna Carta. But apparently, we don't have to be pleasant to each other once we're back in camp."


WED NIGHT ENTRY: "Just had a guy, total stranger, walk through my campsite on his way to the restrooms. Probably doesn't greet ppl on trails."


Deer count: 8. (Seen, not hit by my car.)


WED NIGHT ENTRY: "Sometimes 'tampering' is bad, and sometimes it's good. I just 'tampered' with my fire, and it's doubled in size."

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Crocodile Hunter, we hardly knew ye.

Remarkable. All the bookies in Vegas were sure Steve Irwin would die at the hands, er, teeth, of a crocodile. Alas, the fearless wonder "was killed Monday by a stingray during a diving expedition":
    Irwin was filming an underwater documentary on the Great Barrier Reef in northeastern Queensland state when the accident occurred, Sydney's The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on its Web site.

    The Australian Broadcasting Corp. said Irwin was diving near Low Isles Reef near the resort town of Port Douglas, about 1,260 miles north of the state capital of Brisbane. ...

    Irwin is famous for his enthusiasm for wildlife and his catchcry "Crikey!" in his television program "Crocodile Hunter," which was first broadcast in Australia in 1992 and has aired around the world on the Discovery channel.

    He rode his image into a feature film, and developed the Australia Zoo as a tourist attraction.

    Irwin had received some negative publicity in recent years. In January 2004, he stunned onlookers at the Australia Zoo reptile park by carrying his 1-year-old son into a crocodile pen during a wildlife show. He tucked the infant under one arm while tossing the 13-foot reptile a piece of meat with the other.

    Authorities declined to charge Irwin for violating safety regulations.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Gotta love English.

Overheard Friday evening at a local Borders, an exchange between a father and his young son:

"OK, Daddy, we're running into the bookstore."
"No, no running inside."
"OK, we're not running."

Such a subtle language, eh?


our lives are like waves crashing on a beach
always flowing
never ending
constant ongoing incessant unceasing
some waves impact
many lives
other waves impact
fewer lives
yet all make an impact
until they wash back home
into the lake of life all
at the hand and timing of the

You just can't escape Saddleback.

So I'm up at Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, and someone's talking about a camping area in the High Country. They referred to it as Saddleback Lake or Pass or Something Like That. So I'm thinking that, a la Doug Fields, I've got my OWN stalker (probably Josh Griffin, or maybe Andy Brazleton on his mountain bike). I mean, come on, is there NOWHERE we can go without hearing about Saddleback Church?

Well, OK, it turns out I either misheard them or they didn't know the right name of the place. Turns out it's SaddleBAG Lake. Saddleback, Saddlebag. No, I'm really not going deaf in my 30s. Seriously.

Deerly beloved.

Growing up, my brother Rick and I had our own name for this kind of sign: "Deer dancing like idiots by the side of the road" sign. Come to think of it, that's still what I call it.

Ugly gas prices.

Get a load of this. True story. Seven people, picked to live in a house... never mind...

OK, so I kinda lied. I didn't pay that price for gas. But it's a legit sign from Lee Vining, Calif., which I drove through during my trek to Yosemite. Here is what gas actually is around the Sacramento area these days. SoCal friends, view it and weep.

Friday, September 01, 2006

New friends.

So, this is the first of many posts that will come out of my trip to Yosemite National Park. I had a lot of fun interactions with people and great visits to cool places up in the mountains.

First up: Mike and Janet Paden, a retired couple I met on Monday while visiting Glacier Point. This locale offers some of the most spectacular views of Yosemite Valley, including a "side shot" of Half Dome that you miss if you never leave the Valley floor.

Anyway, I got talking with Mike and Janet about their adventure as they're traveling across the country. I later learned that they've been on the road since April -- wow! -- and their trek has taken them from Illinois all the way to Florida and now way out west. From Yosemite, they (and their two dogs) planned to head north to Lake Tahoe, British Columbia, and maybe as far north as Calgary. It was fun talking about places they've visited and their planned sites along the way.

Remarkably, I ran into the Padens a day later while up in the High Country. I had decided to make a trek over to the east side of the mountains. There's a wonderfully steep route for Highway 120, and it leaders to Lee Vining and Mono Lake. After driving around a little while, I stopped by the "south shore" of Mono Lake and checked out the south tufa formations.

On the way back into Yosemite, I pulled off to get a nice view of Ellery Lake, and after snapping a couple of photos (with my PDA; I didn't bring a "real" camera on this trip), I saw a couple waving at me -- and I realized it was Mike and Janet! We talked for a few minutes about their plans to head to Route 395 and go up to Lake Tahoe for the next leg of their trip.

So, I promised them an email (to be sent in a few minutes) and I decided they should get the first "real" post from my Yosemite trip. I'm looking forward to hearing about their continuing adventures as they head north and then east.

And for the rest of you folks, I promise more posts about mountains and gas prices and deer signs and Saddleback and people from other countries and books I read while up in Yosemite and hikes I took and all kinds of other fun stuff. Enjoy.