Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Facebook

Up until last week, I'd avoided the social internet sites. I didn't have a MySpace or a Facebook. I had the blog, of course, but I didn't really consider that. And then last week, Scott Freeman added me as a friend on his Facebook and I created an account. I guess I'm in it now.

However, there have been a couple of cool things develop.

1) I joined the Otter Creekers group. That's been kind of fun. There are a lot of people that I know, and some I don't.

2) There's a Baja Burrito group. I'm really trying to get them to open one in Bellevue.

3) And somehow, I started getting hooked up with old students of mine from MLK. I think I had one contact in my Gmail and I looked at her friends and their friends and as of today, I've been in some kind of contact with more than 37 of my former students and even started a group on Facebook.

It's been an interesting experience so far and I've enjoyed how clean the interface and profile views are (from a design perspective) especially in comparison to MySpace. So I'll keep with it for a while.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Chunk Blowing

Warning: This post will contain references to a child vomiting.

There are moments in a parent's life where you just dive in. You don't know exactly what you're doing, but it has to be done anyway. Your child vomiting in their bed is one of those situations. Sunday night about 1Am, Kinsey woke up and complained about her stomach hurting and we asked if she needed to go to the bathroom and she did. So we just figured she had it taken care of. About 30 minutes later, we heard a wailing cry, "MOMMY! DADDY!" and we ran into her room.

I'm not sure how what Kinsey had eaten that day turned into what came out of her, but it was nasty. She hadn't sat up and had been laying on her back, so it went down her face and onto her neck and pooled up in the bed. And seriously, there's a reason it's called blowing chunks, because it was chunky.

Well, Sheryl and I looked at each other and I said, "I'll take the bed, you take the kid." We carefully stripped Kinsey's top off and Sheryl took her into the bathroom for a shower to get it out of crevasses and her nose and her hair. I commenced scraping the bed off into a plastic garbage bag and making sure the dog wasn't getting anywhere near it. About 30 minutes later (2AM now) we'd gotten everything cleaned up , also being happy that Connor's a sound sleeper. Kinsey laid back down (with a bucket beside her bed) but now she was developing a fever, so we figured she'd somehow caught the flu thing that's going around. Sheryl stayed up with her most of the night to catch any more episodes (she had two more), and of course, Kinsey stayed home from school. Throughout the day yesterday, she was topping out at 103.5 temp, which seems high, but her body fights this stuff so hard that it's not unusual for her to be up in the 103 range for a little while.

By last night, she was exhausted and fell asleep about 7 and slept until almost 7:30 this morning, but her fever was gone. She seems much better and back to normal. Less cuddly than when she was feverish, but I'll take well Kinsey over the sick one.

It's amazing the stuff that you will do for your kids that you would never consider doing for someone else. There's other stuff that I've done that I wouldn't detail here that I would have never imagined doing. I guess that's one side of the definition of love.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Trust

I was perusing the Tennessean's website this morning and ran across this article about a former minister from here in Nashville, David Slater, being arrested in Texas on theft charges. He had also been arrested here in Nashville for theft at a YMCA.

A couple of things struck me about the article.

1) Slater apparently had access to the school because he was an associate minister at a church renting the school. I know there are a lot of new churches out there that are using schools as their meeting places; I think an unfortunate by product of this will make schools either more cautious about it or less willing to do it, period.

2) After Slater's first arrest here in Nashville, he came and spoke at Otter Creek. He talked about the renewal and restoration in his life. This is one of those times that you look at someone and wonder if he was just lying about that or if he was being honest at that point in his life and something has happened between then and now to make him resort back to a previous sin. It is one of the deep ironies of the Christian life that at one point you can feel completely freed of a sin and at another one completely trapped by that same one. Is there an easy solution to that? No. What is does take is a group of people that you can be completely honest with and accountable to so that when the problems that might force someone into theft or an affair or greed, there's someone that knows you well enough to call you on it.

What I imagine is that Slater's going to be in jail for a while. My hope is that he would find some way to deal with whatever is pushing him to break people's trust and steal from them. I doubt he'll be trusted in such a position again, but hopefully he'll find a way to put his life back together.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The End of Knowledge

I came across this yesterday at Ben Witherington's blog:
...herein lies one of the big problems in conservative Christianity. Evangelicals are not encouraged to think for themselves, not encouraged to do critical thinking, not encouraged to be open minded in the good sense of that phrase. They have too often been taught to blindly accept what they are told. This of course becomes dangerous when it is applied to watching the news and we are dealing with vital life and death matters and some aspects of politics. Of course it is true as my granny used to say that "we should not be so open minded that our brains fall out". Christians should be leading the search for the truth. Christians should be committed to finding out the truth, however uncomfortable and however much it makes us adjust our political or even religious views. The question is can we handle the truth? Nuff said.
Witherington has pointed out one of my big issues lately and honestly, because of my Christian tribe (Church of Christ), I see it heightened there especially, and it's the arrogance of knowledge. Particularly within the Churches of Christ, there is an emphasis on knowledge and that everything that God wants us to know has been revealed. As a result, all one has to do is read the Bible (no interpretation needed, because God's will is plainly obvious and if you disagree, then you're either an imbecile or deliberately obtuse). Basically, it's the end of knowledge. Everything has been given, nothing more is needed. And it strikes me as the height of arrogance.

I suppose one argument could be made that God made the knowledge of Himself finite so that humans could understand Him, but that seems ludicrous. What seems much more likely is that through Jesus, we get a glimpse of who God is. But what the knowledge of Jesus should not, should NEVER do is let us think that we've got it all figured out. To imagine that the human mind can understand God, let alone fully comprehend is something that robs God of one of His most enduring characteristics: His unknowability.

Once we realize that we can't understand Him completely and accept that, it makes other aspects of the Christian life more palatable and makes it much easier to get along with others. It should make us more loving, more tolerant, more sympathetic, because if we don't have God completely figured out, why would we be judgmental of someone else who doesn't either?

There is no such thing as the end of Knowledge of God, because everytime we try to put Him into a box, He explodes it. He's not a tame lion.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Practical Pacifism 2

So, did you read the article I linked to yesterday? If you haven't, I still highly, highly recommend it.

And from it, I have some questions.
  • If you are like me and you have become convinced in the last couple of years that nonviolent resistance/pacifism is the intent that Jesus would have for his followers, how does the reality of this situation strike you? One thing that it made me wonder is how much easier is it for me to claim this as a lifestyle if my person or my family is not in constant danger of bodily harm? Basically, is it easier to support pacifism if you're really not in any danger of having to hurt someone?
  • If you do not lean towards pacifism, how does the whole story strike you? What does seeing a practical application of nonviolent resistance do for your opinion of the philosophy as a whole? Were Shane and Cassim foolish, or even worse, stupid?
It's an interesting subject and one that become even more immediate because of the situation that Shane relates.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Practical Pacifism

I couldn't wait until another day to post this.

You must read this article about applied pacifism by Shane Claiborne, author of The Irresistible Revolution, which I reviewed here.

Mad Jesus Skilz: Applied Pacifism isn't Passive

At least it's not a family bush

Not much news on the kids front. Kinsey is back in school and loving it still, although she says, "It's too long..." Connor is in the mode right now of movement where he's sitting up and falling toward what he wants while interspersing an army crawl in the process as well. We tried to get it on video, but he got camera shy.

One other fun piece of family stuff. The other day, while trawling the web, I found a great family tree site, called Geni.com It's really easy to use, and when you break it out, it gets really interesting, especially with blended families. It's also private, so unless you're invited, you can't see someone's tree. If you're a family member and I haven't invited you, get in touch with me and I'll add you. You have to do all the research yourself, this is just a display for it, but in researching, I've been able to find one branch back to my great-great-great-grandparents. Enjoy.

Monday, January 22, 2007

TiVo Customer Service

I'll edit this post later today about TiVo Customer Service. Depending on some answers I get about a replacement for our defective TiVo, it could be positive or negative.

The Story So Far

On Tuesday of last week, Sheryl and I decided to take the TiVo plunge. I called and ordered the Series 2 Dual Tuner model for 69 dollars with the two year plan. I followed the tracking online and was excited to see that it was going to arrive on Thursday. I was going to see a movie that night and wanted to record the Scrubs musical episode and The Daily Show and Colbert Report. I set it up that night (including wireless adapter) and set it to record Scrubs. No problem. I then set it up to record TDS and TCR. Problem.

When I hit the button to record, the TiVo shut off then back on, with a yellow and black screen that said, "Welcome. Powering Up..." So we let it sit that way for about 10 minutes and then decided that we didn't like that that much and unplugged it and plugged it back in. Same thing. Went online. Got the same advice and unplugged it and plugged it back in. Same thing. Called customer support. Got the same advice and did it one more time. After we got the same result, the CS person told us we had a bad hard drive and they would have to send us a new one. At which point we had the option of sending our old one back and waiting for the new one to arrive or them sending us a new one and then we send ours back, which is what we chose to do (of course, our account was charged with $250). We were told it would be several days to get it, so I asked if we could be upgraded to overnight. Because the exchange had already been processed, we couldn't so I just decided to wait on it, patiently.

Friday. I had received no emails or confirmation that our new box had been sent. So I called Customer Service and they said it HADN'T been sent out yet and in fact, it might not be sent out until Saturday. And it might not get to us for 7-10 business days, or 2 weeks in real person talk. Which honestly just flabbergasts me. I mean seriously, if a customer gets a defective box, why wouldn't you send a replacement out IMMEDIATELY and sent overnight.. I pointed this out to the CS rep and his supervisor, who said that their hands were tied because the exchange had already been processed. I suggested cancelling that exchange and redoing it, but they couldn't do that either. They did give us a month of service for free, so that was nice.

So I called the corporate office to register my complaint. Someone there took my name and number and promised that someone would get back to me. I called again and no one did.

Saturday, we got a call telling us that it had been shipped. Great. Two days later.

Today. Just now. I just got off the phone with CS and they gave me a tracking # for the replacement, which is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. My anger has abated some, but it'll still be a day later than I wanted for Heroes and 24. Also, it would have been PERFECT for last night, which the barnburner Colts-Pats game ran into the 9 o'clock hour while Battlestar Galactica was on, which we could have recorded and switched over to after the game.

I'm still going to send an email to the Investor Relations about this. I'm pretty ticked off about it overall, but much less so than about 45 minutes ago.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Big vs. Small

I don't get to spend a lot of time sitting with my congregation family at church. Most of the time, I'm up in the tech booth, making sure no major snafus are occurring, and honestly, it's something that I miss. I miss the Meet and Greet time where I could say hi to people. I miss the time before and after worship and between classes where I could catch up with people and what's going on with their lives.

But it's also given me some perspective on things. For instance, how big Otter Creek has gotten, population wise. We're having around 1000 people every Sunday at the worship service. And what I've started to wonder (and this is not about Otter Creek in particular), what purpose does it serve to have huge congregations? So, some pros and cons about what I see in big congregations and small congregations?

One note before we start: I've attended two church homes in my lifetime: Otter Creek Church of Christ, birth to 14, Belmont Church (formerly of Christ), 16-20, and then back to Otter Creek, 20 to 35. Belmont had three services when I was there, generally with 1500 in attendance. But when I came back to OC in 1992, there were about 250 or 300 in regular attendance.

Pros of a big congregation:
  • One of the biggest pros I see is the pooling of resources. The weekly offering at OC is sometimes a staggering number to me, generally equaling in one week what I made as a teacher. With this amount of funds there is a lot of good that can be done. A lot of people can really be helped with that amount of the money.
  • Another pro is the potential for a heterogeneous experience. If you're attending a worship service with 1000 people in attendance, the possibilities for a wide variety of life experiences is enormous.
Cons:
  • With every pro there is a con. It would be great if the bulk of the money taken was given away to those who need the help, but with a 1000 member congregation, there is a lot of financial support that has to be given for the church. There are staff to be paid, property to be maintained, etc. Serving a congregation of that nature is a large issue and a lot has to be given over to that.
  • While the potential is there for a heterogeneous experience, that is very often not the case. Humans are tribal creatures and we tend to want to associate with people of similar backgrounds and experiences. This can even happen in smaller groups within a large group, which is how the ever-dreaded cliques form.
  • One of the biggest problems I feel with big churches is the ability for people to fall through the cracks. Church has to be about relationship, and sometimes I wonder if people choose to go to big churches because they don't have to to be involved and they can come and punch their "worship" time card. They can slip in and slip out and never really become a part of the church body.
Pros of a smaller church:
  • This one is mainly the opposite of the big cons. Relationships are so much easier formed in a smaller setting. One of the most striking things about going to church in Loughborough, England last year was how small it was, maybe about 50 people. Now a lot of them were related anyway, but there was this strong sense of family. People were missed when they weren't there, and not because their number in the attendance, but because a friend was gone. The strength of the relationships seems so much stronger.
Cons of a smaller church:
  • This one goes to the variety of experiences again. Within a small group, the chances for a variety is even smaller. It's even easier to have an insular experience within a small situation.
  • There are definitely not as many resources financially within a smaller situation, although the argument might be made that people still find ways to help those in need because it's easier to find out about those needs.
So there's what I've come up with. What are your experiences? Am I way off base? Is it time to break up megachurches and form smaller congregations? Do all the small churches need to merge? Is there room for both experiences?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

George W. Bush on YouTube

Ok, 2 George W. Bush related YouTube videos today.

The first one was done by the Daily Show a few years back. It's simply called Bush vs. Bush and it's President Bush debating Texas Governor Bush. It's strange to see statements by Pres. Bush directly contradicted by statements Bush made while campaigning to become President.



The other video I found is pretty interesting as well. Watch it first.



Now, I don't agree with all the points in the video, but it's really striking the, dare I say, eloquence of George W. Bush back then and the example in the video. It does make you wonder what has happened to Bush in the last 10 years, that 90% of his speeches seem like they are being delivered by a nervous high school student. Maybe he was better coached back then?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Jack Bauer Power Hour vs. Heroes

I watched 24 in the first season. I'm a fan of high concepts and Sheryl and I thought we'd give it a shot. We really enjoyed the whole thing as was pretty shocked when his "amnesia"-prone wife was killed. I found the whole subplot with his daughter a bit weird since she seemed to have a knack for getting into ridiculous trouble, or rather that the writers couldn't put her in jeopardy without it seeming ridiculous.

We didn't watch the second season or any subsequent ones, but I've got a lot of friends who really like it, so on Sunday and Monday, I thought I'd give it a shot. And it was good. It's violent in some disturbing ways, but I've been impressed in how seriously the show treats violence. I knew this was a dangerous mine to walk into, because starting next Monday, 24 and Heroes are going head to head. It's going to be very interesting because I think there's a lot of overlap between the two audiences. People who like Heroes probably like 24 too. And I'll be interested in how the ratings play out. Will Heroes keep it's almost 15 million person audience? Will 24 siphon it away? Did God create TiVo specifically for Monday nights in the winter of 2007?

The other difference between the two is the almost unrelenting darkness of 24, similar to Battlestar Galactica. It's always go, go, go, on 24 and trying to stop the next big crisis. Heroes at least has moments of levity here and there, with Hiro and some of the lighter characters.

I guess what's nice is that there are two great, addictive shows on, in addition to the addictive dreck of American Idle... er, Idol.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Giving

One of the big lessons that Sheryl and I are trying to stress with Kinsey is giving things away. Kinsey was the first grandchild on both sides of the family and so, she has been given a lot of toys. A lot of stuffed animals, that I will freely admit my part in. A lot of toys and various and sundry things. Her room has been at the point where we can make it look clean, but it's really things under the bed and in the toy box and in the closet.

A couple of weeks ago, Sheryl decided it was time to clean up the room and get rid of some stuff. Now, on one hand, it could have been very easy to do all of that while Kinsey was at school and Kinsey would come home and miss some of it, and not miss other stuff, but like I said, we want her to learn what it means to give and that sometimes, giving hurts. So together, Sheryl and Kinsey went through her stuff. This stuff went into three categories:
  • Connor hand-me-downs: This includes books, some puzzles, and some dolls (Buzz Lightyear, Woody and Jesse, from the Toy Stories)
  • Throw aways: Generally stuff that had been so worn or so played with that we couldn't in good conscience give it away (I tried to avoid thinking of the Velveteen Rabbit as we through away some stuffed animals)
  • Give aways: A lot of stuff here and there were some struggles with Kinsey initially. She wanted to keep everything. But when Sheryl talked to her about not playing with things and that someone else would, Kinsey really started to warm up to it. She ended up giving away a lot of things that I thought she'd throw a fit about. She got really sweet about it and last night, in her prayer, she said, "Thank you for helping give away my things. Be with the people who don't have as much as we do and help us find ways to help them." I just pray that this becomes a lifelong discipline for her.
In Connor news, he's almost crawling. He's as the point now where he sits himself up easily and if he sees a toy he wants, he reaches for it and falls in its direction. He's almost got the concept of crawling down, so we'll see how much longer it is before we're running after him. I get the feeling it'll be in the next couple of weeks.

Monday, January 15, 2007

In the Name of Love

On this day celebrating the birth of Martin Luther King Jr, I offer this excerpt from his "Letters from a Birmingham Jail."

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or. unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides-and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. . . ." Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he k alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

May we all be extremists for love.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Consumer Sabbatical

One of the topics I mentioned last week to talk about was the idea of a consumerism or shopping sabbatical. Basically, they bought nothing new for an entire year.

The idea came from a Yahoo article that was sent to me about a group in San Francisco that did it for a year. According to the article, the group "exempted food, essential toiletries like toothpaste and shampoo, underwear and other purchases that fell under the categories of health and safety from their pledge." But everything else, they got used or free or swapped with someone.

Reading this really intrigued me. One of the greatest blessings in America that most of us have is the ability to go out any day of any week and get just about what ever we want. TV goes out? Bust out the credit card and get a new one. Clothes go out of style? Jump on the internet and find what you want and have it next day. However, I think this can also be a great burden as well. One of the things this teaches us is that goods are simply there to be consumed and then discarded and it becomes very difficult to not only break ourselves out of that mindset, but also to break our children out of that mindset. And ultimately what can happen for us is that we become so fixated on getting the next thing, whether it's the skirt that you've been craving in the window or the iPhone that makes your mouth dry because you've drooled a puddle on the floor. It can even stretch to relationships and how we treat those. That consumerist mindset is probably a strong reason for the levels of divorce in the country (which would probably be higher if it counted the cohabitating couples that split apart). Once a relationship no longer makes someone happy, then they just leave it.

So basically, consumerism has infested every aspect of our lives. And the compact the group in San Francisco took was to try and step away from that. Here's the question: what would it look like for Christians to do that, for followers of Christ to say that they are no longer going to serve Mammon?

I think this would be incredibly difficult because so much of American culture is built around consumerism and hence, so much of American Christianity is built around it as well. As the commenter last week asked, would the American economy collapse? If Christians are supposed to be different from the world, what kind of statement would it make to eschew consumerism? Or is this just pie in the sky thinking that holds no realistic basis in the reality?

And if you don't think this is just insane, could you do it? Could you go a year? What about a month? What about a week? I'm very interested in people's thoughts.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Pachelbel's Canon in YouTube

One of the sites I frequent is Digg, basically a social networking site where people submit stories and websites and also videos. So I was on there the other day and this video was linked. It is a rant against Pachelbel's Canon in D and it's one of the funnier things I've seen in a while. Warning: PG language.



I can understand this guy's frustration. I've done sound for quite a few weddings and been to a ton of them too. So I could definitely sympathize with him. In the comments on the Digg story, one person said that it reminded them of another video. Apparently it's one of the most popular videos in the history of YouTube and clicking it, I had no idea what I was about to see. What I saw was pretty incredible.



Yes, that is an Asian (Korean, to be specific) guy absolutely shredding on Pachelbel's Canon in D on his electric guitar (the computer is playing everything else besides the lead guitar). Watching that the first time, I was blown away by the talent and on subsequent viewings I'm increasingly impressed. It's one of those things where I feel like if I knew more about playing guitar beyond the chords, I'd be even more impressed. Heck, I can't even do those bar chords he does at the beginning. Plus the song sounds really cool too. Almost a Trans-Siberian Orchestra feel to it.

btw, here is a NYTimes story giving all the backstory on it and talking a bit more about this guy. Just phenomenal.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Thoroughly Modern Mark Lowry

A few weeks back, Adam Ellis (who really needs to update his blog...) pointed me to an online show done by Mark Lowry and Tony Campolo, called Saturdays with Mark and Tony. If you don't know who Tony Campolo is, he is a professor emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University. He's one of the leading liberal-leaning thinkers in Christianity (socially liberal, very conservative Biblically). Mark Lowry may be more unfamiliar to people in my readership. Lowry is a Christian comedian and singer. He's sung with Bill Gaither in the Gaither Vocal Band and on Gaither's (apparently extremely) popular Homecoming series, in addition to his comedy.

I don't know how this "show" got started, but it's Tony Campolo and Mark Lowry sitting together and just discussing things of faith and life. Mark is very modern (in the modern/post-modern) sense and Tony is more post-modern and it's very interesting to hear this discussion. Mark asks a lot of questions from his perspective and really questions Tony about some of his perspectives, particularly if Tony says something that disagrees with the way that Mark has always thought about things. If you've got the time, I highly recommend giving it a listen. It's well worth it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Connor's Next Step

When we went in to get Connor up from his nap, he was sitting up, which means he sat himself up. Which means he might start thinking about climbing out of it. This means we'll have to move the mattress in the crib down so he won't fall out. This also means he'll be mobile soon, which means re-child proofing several things in the house. I remember this time with Kinsey, but I don't remember it coming this quickly.

















How we found Connor when he woke up.


















Kinsey loves him so much that she wants to be in every picture with him.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Dreamgirls

I'm a fan of the old school movie musicals. I love me some Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz. It's never bothered me in those that people just kind of randomly break out into songs. It's just one of those movie things you accept. And I'll watch them every now and then, but not really look for new things to see.

Well, until a couple of years ago, when Sheryl and I went to see Chicago, and I was floored. Absolutely floored. I loved the narrative conceit of all the music being in Roxie's head. I thought that Renee Zellweger did a passable job as Roxie, but that Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones blew that whole movie away. I was shocked to hear Gere sing and dance the way he did, and Zeta-Jones was liquid smoke on the screen. And John C. Reilly singing Mr. Cellophane? Scene stealer right there.

We didn't see Rent and we rented The Producers, which didn't really impress us. So Dreamgirls wasn't even on our radar until I read BST's post about it last week and he and I talked about it some and he said how blown away he was by it. So when Sheryl and I had a date night on Saturday we decided to give it a shot.

Ho.

Ly.

Crap.

If you kinda liked Chicago, or like musicals, or like great songs and great singing, do not miss this movie. Directed by Bill Condon, adapter of Chicago for the screen, this movie is a marvel. As much as it is based on the story of Diana Ross and the Supremes, it's also a slide through the history of how African-American music became mainstream in pop. The cast is magnificent. Beyonce Knowles is gorgeous and Jamie Foxx is slick and sly. Danny Glover does some nice work in it too.

But there are two standouts: Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson.

Eddie. I won't go into his history, but I do own Beverly Hills Cop on DVD. Most of his fans will remember his James Brown portrayal on SNL back in the 70s and fewer people remember that he released a singing album in the 80s. In Dreamgirls, Eddie portrays one of the first black singers to crossover to the pop (white) charts, by toning down his music. But with the depth and strength and weakness he brings to the role, it just would not surprise me if his name isn't called on Oscar night.

Jennifer Hudson. I'm not a big American Idol fan. I like watching the auditions for the people willing to humiliate themselves for 30 seconds of airtime to try and be like William Hung. I don't really watch it, so I don't remember Jennifer Hudson singing on it. I will always remember her singing in this movie. There is one song that just blew the audience away so much that people clapped (!) at the end of it, as if we (and I applauded too) were in a theater and she could hear us. It's simply one of the most emotional performances I've ever seen on the screen, and she abso-frakkin'-lutely nails it. And if she's not carrying home an Oscar, it will be a crime.

See Dreamgirls. Seriously. Sheryl and I loved it so much that when we got home, I downloaded the Deluxe Edition of the soundtrack from iTunes. If you like musicals in the slightest, see it. If you like the Motown sound, see this movie. It's worth the time.

Friday, January 05, 2007

A Look at the Year Ahead

I started this blog a couple of years ago, only posting on Fridays and only posting on spiritual/Christian/faith matters. I've obviously expanded on that over the last year or so and will continue to do so, but in the next little bit, I want to think aloud about some questions of faith that have been nagging at the back of my mind over the last little bit, and I will do so over the next little while.

For instance:
  • Is it possible to be an adherent to another religion (or no religion) and to consciously or unconsciously be a follower of Christ?
  • Is the Bible a book of commands that have to be followed to the letter or is it a story with commands for a specific time and place that we need to be a part of and how do we do that?
  • If we are enjoined to "Love the sinner, hate the sin," what about God? Is He exempt from that, i.e. Hell?
  • What if Christians were to take a non-consumerist vow or a shopping sabbatical, similar to what a group did in San Francisco?
  • What are the pros and cons of a congregation of 1,000, or 5,000, or 20,000? What are the pros and cons of a congregation of 50, or 20, or 10?
  • The church of Christ started out as a pacifist, non-violent movement dedicated to the idea of "Christians only, not the only Christians." Is that call still a valid one or has it gotten lost?
Any way, those are some of the thoughts rattling around that I'm planning on dealing with in the next little bit so stay tuned for those.

Two last notes.
  1. Over the last couple of months, Lee Camp has been teaching a class on the Sermon on the Mount at Otter Creek Church of Christ. We recorded it, and now Lee has given his permission for it to go out beyond the confines of the congregation. You can find it at http://theclass.podomatic.com It's extremely interesting and very challenging in many, many ways. Ones I found of particular interest was the one right after the big controversy with the Tennessean article (which you can listen to here) and the last one in the series where he talks about David Lipscomb and the Kingdom of God. Incredibly interesting.
  2. Also, I had someone ask me to do deep geeking on the Heroes previews that I posted yesterday. So I did. Scroll down past the videos to see it. Enjoy or ignore.
Have a great weekend.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Heroes Fix

So, it's been since last year that you've seen any new Heroes footage, hasn't it? And you're wondering, is there anything out there that will get me through until January 22 without binge-ing on spoilers?

Yes. Yes, there is. NBC is running Heroes marathons on Mondays. Three hours on January 1st and three hours next week. And on the first, they showed previews of the upcoming episodes. A courtesy the magic of YouTube, I present them here for you.







Now, I could truly geek out like a raving fanboy about this footage. But I won't... no matter the temptation. Suffice it to say, that while previews for shows can be made to look as good as possible, I'm finding it hard not to get excited about this show. Very excited. And with Psych coming back on January 19 and Battlestar Galactica coming back on January 21, winter looks to be very exciting.

Addendum: OK. Elizabeth, you asked for it and now you get it. Geeking out like a raving fanboy over these previews. I'm going to take it by main character.

Nathan Petrelli: Nathan is obviously coming around to accepting that the "Heroes" in the world are there and he is a part of them. I don't know how that will play out, but people really like his character and I think he'll play a major role in the end of this storyline.

Peter Petrelli: I find it interesting that Peter seems to want to be "cured" in these previews. Along with Hiro, he seemed to be one of the only ones to embrace their roles and powers. So for him to be volunteering to let Mohinder and Mr. Bennett(?) inject him seems very weird and possibly out of character. The bearded man that he talks to is played by Christopher Eccleston who played Dr. Who on last season's BBC series. I know from one spoiler that I read that his power is invisibility and that he will be become some kind of mentor to Peter, which makes Peter's desire to be cured even more interesting.

Hiro: Hiro finds his sword! With the weird symbol on it! And there's a shot of T-Rex skeleton behind him at one point! Seriously, the sword seems to be a big deal here and I'm not sure if it's an actual weapon or a symbol. Now, seeing the symbol on the sword makes me wonder about the Heroes themselves and Mohinder's dad's research and who Mr. Bennett works for. Has there been an organization that has worked with people with powers for a long time? At any rate, Hiro is such a bright spot on the show and his enthusiasm for who he is and embracing it is one of the best parts of the whole thing. One other thing: as Hiro's English improves, does Ando become expendable? Or maybe Ando is working for someone else and keeping an eye on Hiro? Just random speculation there.

Claire: She's trying to find Peter again, which is very understandable. He's the only person besides Zach that she's ever talked to about this and she wants to continue that. Speaking of Zach, he's back and filming her again. Does the Haitian give him his memory back? She's also looking at her dad's computer, possibly. She's realizing that her whole existence has been a lie. Which is kind of sad from two perspectives. 1) That her whole existence has been a lie and 2) it really ruins the little father-daughter dynamic going on between her and her dad that was a really sweet aspect to the show. I know it had to happen, but it still disappoints me. And her word: "Mom?" Is she talking about her adopted mother? Her birth mother? Her fake-birth mother?

Nikki/Jessica: Nikki is obviously in jail confessing to murder. Which murder? Take your pick, DL's crew, the money launderer and his gambling friends. Nikki also seems to want to get rid of Jessica and the syringe shots look like her getting poked. Will it work? Will Nikki become the dominant personality or is Jessica actually the dominant personality and Nikki the one that she developed to hide in? No spoiler there, just some random speculation.

DL/Micah: Like I said at the end of the fall season, they've got to do something with this storyline or drop them because I couldn't really care less. The only interesting thing was the two of them looking at Nikki in her cell. Will DL uses his phasing ability and Micah his technological power to get her out?

Issac: He's still clean it looks like and Hiro has come back with him to New York. Nathan finds him and they talk about his paintings. Simone (another character that hasn't registered much on my radar) is there and falls at some point, it seems.

Matt: Matt's obviously ticked at Bennett for kidnapping him, but how will all of that play out? That's one storyline I don't really have a bead on, but I'm really interested. They need to make his wife more sympathetic, because I'd rather not see the two of them get divorced even though Matt really did cheat on their "date."

Mohinder: Obviously embracing his role as the science guy and teaming up with Mr. Bennett to cure(?) the Heroes who want to be cured. Will he move to Texas to help Bennett? Where will "The List" play into all of this?

Sylar: He seems to be slightly comatose at this point, but I'm thinking that roach walking across his floor is either not long for the world or an indication that there is some way out of his cell.

And finally, Mr. Bennett: The list is very important to him. Is it to find these Heroes to protect them or to protect the world from him? He's in some organization without initials (OWI) that wants Sylar alive and he's taking his orders from someone else, particularly about keeping Sylar alive. I'm really enjoying this character and curious to see how he's going to develop.

So that's my deep geeking. I love this show. Obviously. And I'm really looking forward to the 22nd.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Phil Wilson, AP English Teacher

It's weird how some things happen. In the space of the last several days, I've run into or been in contact with several of my former students from MLK, where I taught from 1994 to 2000. That student teacher bond is a strange one that can last for years and years. But here's the story of how I lived one of my teaching dreams. Warning: this will be a pretty long post.

After the 1996-1997 school year, the then-current Advanced Placement (AP) English at MLK moved to another school for reasons I won't go into here. At that point, I'd only been teaching for four years and thought that I might be considered a bit young to teach AP, but I thought that I would go to the administration and express my desire to take on the class. I was surprised when they said that they thought I would be a great teacher and lined me up to take some training on how to teach AP English. The training I got was EXCELLENT and it really prepared me to take on the class.

You see, I thought I was uniquely qualified to teach the course, because I'd taken AP English as a Senior at Hume-Fogg Academic, another magnet school here in Nashville. I was also considered a borderline student, a "project" if you will. And Mr. Kaplan, the AP teacher at HFA, told me as much. He told me that he wasn't sure that I could handle the workload, but he was willing to take a chance on me, and I was glad he did, as I got a 4 out of 5 on the exam (3 is passing) and it got me out of my complete freshman year of English at Lipscomb. Knowing that I was a borderline student, I knew that I could help encourage similar students at MLK and hopefully bring them up as well.

Now, MLK was going through a sea-change in its attitudes toward AP courses. In previous years, anyone who wanted to take an AP class could and in fact, before I started teaching AP, I had several students drop my Honors Senior class into AP, because they thought it was easier, and in some ways, it was. However, even if you took the class, you weren't required to take the AP test, a philosophy I disagreed with. I thought that if you took the class, you should take the test, otherwise, why take the class? The flip side of that coin was the idea of giving the student the experience of taking a college level class without the pressure of the exam. MLK was switching to the mindset of "if you take the class, you take the exam." I liked this and told my kids the first day of class that if they had no intention of taking the class, they needed to drop it right then, because we were focusing on preparing for the test in May. In fact, that first day, I put a countdown on my white board of the # of days until the test, just to remind the students of it.

In the first week of class, I gave the students a practice AP English exam. I'd gotten several from the training I took, which were invaluable. The AP English exam consists of two parts, or did back then: 1 section of multiple choice over several pieces of short literature, prose and poetry, and 1 section of 3 essays to be written in 2 hours. One essay was over a short poem, one was over a short prose piece (neither of which the students would have been likely to see before), and one "open-ended" where the students could use a book or books they'd read to answer a question. I knew most of my kids wouldn't have written that much before, so they needed to be trained to write an essay in 40 minutes, so we worked on that, a lot. And after we scored the preliminary essays, I told the kids that my goal for the year was to get them one score higher than where they were at the beginning of the year. So if they scored a 2 on the practice test, they should be able to get a 3 on the real one in the spring. And if they scored a 5 on it, then they should be very happy with themselves and not bother me too much.

Some people might complain that I was "teaching to the test," and that's true to some extent. But in a world where teachers are judged by what their children score on the tests they take, I was surely going to make sure they did well. We naturally covered a lot of literature, did some prerequisite vocabulary, and even did some fun stuff at several points in the year, like having the kids act out different Canterbury Tales (not the dirty ones, although we did read the Miller's Tale out loud in class). We read Macbeth and A Streetcar Named Desire, among other plays. They read Grendel and Catcher in the Rye, among many other novels. Every six weeks, we'd do a practice AP exam and score it and then go over the answers and why they put what they did. We covered the beauty of poetry, and unfortunately had to break it into parts to understand it for the test, although I think some of the kids started to see some of the beauty of it. For those three classes in those two years, they probably read and wrote more than they had in most of their lives. In February, we did a live practice test on a Saturday. They weren't required, but it was highly recommended. They took a multiple choice section for an hour, they took a break, and then they wrote three essays in two hours, their first real exposure to the rigors of an AP English test. And I had to score all of them. Every single one, plus their book journals, and their spring research papers.

But I loved it. I was teaching some of the smartest kids in Nashville about some of the greatest works of literature in the world. And it led to wonderful discussions. All of those things they told us in teacher orientation not to talk about, we talked about: sex, religion, politics, race. Because, guess what? That's what 18 year olds are interested in talking about! They were discussion where wide and varying viewpoints were brought out, and the kids were exposed to ideas that stretched beyond their own.

The other thing I loved what that, unlike my Honors classes, I didn't feel like it was me against the kids. They weren't trying to get through me to get to graduation. In my AP classes, it was us against the test. And I was the coach. They knew that I didn't want them to fail. That I didn't want them to be humiliated. So I was going to do everything I could to take care of them. To encourage them. To kick them in the butt if they needed that.

And at the end of that first year, 83% of my kids passed the AP English Exam. And at the end of the second year, 77% passed. Only one time in my teaching career was I prouder, but that's another story for another day.

And when my kids walked across the stage at TSU to get their diplomas, I was as proud as their parents were. I was watching kids I'd known since the eighth ('99) and seventh ('00) grade take a step toward adulthood.

Like I said, it's weird how things happen. I got an email from a former student telling me that I was responsible for her love of literature and writing. That's one of those irreplaceable feelings for me. That knowledge of sparking a love for literature. It's just... amazing.

Teaching is a special time of my life and honestly, it's hard to believe that I've been NOT teaching longer than I actually taught. In some ways, I still feel like that 28 year old guy when I get a hankering to pull a Faulkner book off the shelf, or want to take a dive into Henry IV, Part 1, even if I'm seven years beyond that now. Getting out of teaching has afforded me the opportunity for Sheryl to be home and be the primary caregiver to our kids. It's allowed me to expand my horizons beyond English into interface design and coding, but it's also shortened those horizons some too. I don't get to look into the eyes of the 18 year olds that I've taught and see the future. To see lives being formed. To see options and dreams and the wonder of life unbroken against experience. I see it in Kinsey some, but that's different too.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is Thank you. If you were one of my students, AP or not, thank you. Thank you for six incredible years. Thank you for being a part of my life every day of those years. And thanks for saying hi to me when you see me around town. It reminds me that "Yeah. I really was a pretty good teacher," and you all were some pretty great kids.

Thanks.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Christmas Before and After

It's kind of amazing how quickly things can change in a day. The picture below was taken at 3:43 pm yesterday.



















The following picture was taken at 10:30pm.


















And with that Christmas is officially over at the Wilson house.

In other news (literally), last Thursday I got a call from Jamey Tucker, the Religion and Ethics reporter for WKRN Channel 2. He wanted to talk to a couple of bloggers about the top stories for the last year so he called me and Gavin Richardson. We met at Bongo Java and talked for about an hour or so. We talked about the Da Vinci Code, the Bellevue Community Church problems, Ted Haggard, the Pope's comments about Islam, Belmont's board allowing non Baptists and several other topics. Of course, between me and Gavin, we both got a combined 10 seconds of air time, which might be good for Gavin, since he said the pope made a mistake... You can view it here if you wish. It was actually a really great and fun conversation, no matter how much of it actually made it to air.

Well, have a good week. I'm back at work, which has it's pluses and minuses after being off for a week. More later this week.
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