Sunday, July 29, 2007

Change in attitude

Yesterday I helped my buddy Sam move out of his apartment. The day didn't start well as nearly every road between his house and mine was closed for construction. After cussing several times, I finally arrived 15 minutes late. When I got there he and his kids were eating popcorn and candy for breakfast, much had not been packed yet and he hadn't even picked up the trailer. I remember thinking that it was going to be a long day. When he asked me if I would take his kids and pick up another buddy of ours named John while he went and picked up the trailer I was a little frustrated. It wasn't my first choice because I hardly know his kids and had no idea where John lived but I reluctantly agreed. That drive turned out to be the changing point for my attitude. While driving, we took turns selecting great songs from the 80's on Sam's MP3 player. There is nothing better than having young kids enjoy music from my past. We rocked out to Eye of the Tiger and Summer of 69 and by the time I picked up John my mood had changed and the rest of the day went fine. Sometimes it just takes the simple enthusiasm of kids to improve the day.

Monday, July 23, 2007

And the two shall become one?

Just across the street from our church is another church called Black Soil that meets at the exact same time as we do. They are small like us and have a relatively similar mission. Comically, we both place signs within 50 feet of each of other along Michigan Ave inviting people to come to our perspective churches. After both pastors met and prayed they decided it would be worthwhile to explore merging the two smaller congregations with the hopes of combining our resources and creating a tipping point for growth. Last Saturday night our church attended their service and in two weeks they are invited to attend our service.

To be honest, their service is much different than ours but I enjoyed it. The service had much more liturgy than we have and the atmosphere was organic and artsy. They have the room set up in a circle with lots of candles and mismatched chairs. Granted not everything worked in terms of flow and they went overboard in trying to be different but it was a good service.

Having said that, I have a suspicion that I was one of only a few in my church who appreciated their style. Most people I spoke with were fairly critical of the service. Even though we are a new church our self, many people in our church are more traditional and resistant to change. I can appreciate that. It's nice to be in on the ground floor of a new church and have ownership. Joining with Black Soil would certainly shake that up.

But our differences are more than just style. First, we are loosely affiliated with the Baptist church and they are affiliated with the Reformed church. While we agree on an abundance of theology, whether or not to baptize infants will be a challenge to sort out. Second, while our missions are similar, Black Soil is much more committed to it than we are. We both claim to be neighborhood based but the reality is that the core of our church is not from the east side of Lansing. I am little concerned how Black Soil will incorporate people from all over the city that don't fit within their specific model.

Regardless of whether we merge, one byproduct of the process has been a broader discussion of our own church mission and vision. We are an eclectic bunch drawing from a broad range of experiences. Frankly, this diversity is what I find most appealing. But I am not sure that we have ever really worked through these differences or if we have just sort of glossed them over for the sake of unity. This discussion provides a framework to address those issues.

One thing that Noah, our pastor, shared last night was that unity does not mean complete agreement on every issue but submission of our own agenda and opinions for the sake a unified mission. This perspective takes a lot of humility and sacrifice but I believe it is a true reflection of what we should look like as the church universal. This doesn't mean we should accept all teachings and opinions as equal or valid but there has to be room to disagree over the non essentials that often divide the church.

In the end, it is unclear where this journey will take us. But like most trips, the best experience is getting there.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

My new look

This past Friday I went in for LASIK eye surgery. It was a success although the whole procedure was a bit nerve racking. Thankfully they gave me Valium before hand which helped me to relax during the surgery. They gave me a dvd of the surgery but I haven't watched it yet. Maybe when my eyes are fully healed.

It has now been two days and some times my vision is great and other times it's still a little blurry. The doctor tells me this is normal. Anyways, I just think it's incredible that they can cut into my eye and correct my vision. Science is truly amazing. That and having insurance that pays for the procedure. It is still weird to look in the mirror and see myself without my glasses but it feels great. Now, I just have to go buy some cool sunglasses.

Almost famous

The other day as I was walking to the capitol building a reporter with the City Pulse stopped me to ask a couple questions. Since I enjoy seeing my name in print, I decided to oblige him. Here is the link:

I actually think the picture turned out quite well. And of course, of the 10 responses, mine is the most well thought out.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Everything I needed to learn about sex, I learned in kindergarten

Barack Obama is at again. This time he suggested that schools should teach sex education to kindergartners. When I first read the news headline, I thought he must have been misquoted or taken out of context. But no, he actually believes this nonsense as long as it is taught "age appropriately" whatever that means.

Here's an idea: Instead of teaching kids about sex how about teaching them to read and write and leave it up to parents to teach their kids about sex. No wonder our public school's are failing and that teenage sex is increasing rapidly. Obama's explanation for his position is that since kids are having sex they need to learn at an earlier age to avoid getting pregnant and catching diseases. But if you look at the facts, teenagers engaged in far less sex back when schools were more interested in teaching and parents were the primary source of sex education. And kindergartners aren't engaging in any sex that I am aware of.

Obama's comments once again highlight how out of touch he is with mainstream traditional values. Hopefully, people will begin to see through his centrist facade and view him as the radical liberal that he really is.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dog fighting

Last night I heard the news that Michael Vick is being indicted for running a dog fighting ring. This is good news because it means that even his celebrity status cannot prevent him from facing a trial. The more details that come out in this case, the more despicable Vick appears. How anyone could treat dogs with such cruelty is beyond my capacity to understand. Frankly, dog fighting is only one step above what happened in the Roman coliseums.
Here are some details from other news sources:

The indictment said that in April 2007, Peace, Phillips and Vick "executed
approximately eight dogs that did not perform well in 'testing' sessions by
various methods, including hanging, drowning and/or slamming at least one dog's
body to the ground." Vick also is alleged to have consulted with Peace before
Peace killed a losing dog by electrocution in 2003.

The NFL's response to these accusations was less than forceful yesterday. While I realize they need to give him his day in court, how can the NFL stand by and allow these actions to go unpunished? Unfortunately for the league, Vick is one of their most identifiable players and his actions damage their reputation. I used to think that Vick's little brother Marcus was a punk but killing dogs makes Marcus look like a boy scout in comparison.

I would urge all Atlanta season ticket holders to boycott the team until they release Michael Vick. And I suggest that animal rights activist organize protests in every NFL town demanding that the league punish him for his behavior. My suggested punishment is to put him in the ring naked with one of the dogs he used to abuse.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Soccer Hype

This weekend David Beckham, the famous English soccer player, arrived in the states. He was signed by the LA Galaxy in the off season and the media is trumpeting him as the salvation of American soccer. I agree that he does give soccer a bit of boost in terms of interest and marketing but honestly the MLS needs much more than a soccer player who is well past his prime. Granted he is still a good player but hardly dominant. If he were still as good as people want him to be he would most certainly be playing in Europe and not in LA. But regardless, he could be the best player of all time and most Americans, myself included, would still not care about soccer.

Let's face it, it's not the lack of star power or marketing that is holding soccer back in America; it is the game itself. It's slow, methodical and boring. Most games end with only 1 or 2 goals scored and that is simply not enough to keep the American public's interest. Instead of trying to sell the game via Beckham, the people running MLS should try tweaking the game to make it more American friendly. I can hear all the soccer purists complaining as I write this but how many actual soccer fans are there? Maybe five hundred nationwide.

Here is what I would do to fix the game. Get rid of the offsides so as to allow players to get more one on one chances to score. This is such a common sense change and I don't know why they refuse to do it other than tradition. Second, I would widen the field to give more room to maneuver. Third, I would change the substitution rules to allow players to get a break during the game and then come back fresh. There is nothing worse than watching tired soccer players try to finish a game. Fourth, I would get rid of the yellow/red card system and instead go to a hockey type power play system.

If they did all these things, I guarantee scoring would increase and so would American interest. Until then, it will be the same old, same old, with Beckham or without him.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


This has a been a tough week for my family and unfortunately, I feel completely helpless to do anything about it.

My nephews Jacob and David have been thrown out of the house by my brother. And while I sometimes give them the benefit of the doubt, this time he was totally justified. They are both heavily involved with drugs and have become completely disrespectful of all authority and particular of their Dad. This scenario has been building for some time and it's been hard to watch and know that there was nothing I could do stop it.

Being an Uncle is one of the most rewarding things in my life. Some of my best memories are with Jacob and David. I love my nephews deeply but, because of their behavior, It is increasingly difficult to be around them. They used to be sweet, innocent boys but that has all been stripped away by drugs and uncontrollable anger. I have tried talking to each of them separately hoping to instill some perspective on the decisions they are making and also to give them a positive role model. But lately, it just falls on deaf ears and they blame everybody else but themselves.

I know that their lives have not been the easiest. Their parents got divorced and then both got remarried. Their Dad can be angry and distant at times. I get that, but it's still no excuse for their behavior. What I don't think they realize is that the bad choices they make don't only impact themselves but the rest of the people who love them. My Mom cries herself to sleep because she feels like she has lost them. My brother is an emotional wreck because of what's happening. My relationship with them has soured over the past year because of their choices. And while they might not care about that, I certainly do.

This should have been a fun year. Jacob is a senior and I should be taking him on college tours together dreaming about his future. David is just about to get his drivers license and I want to see him drive away by himself for the first time as he experiences some independence. But instead, they are wasting away in a culture of drugs and rebellion.

The ironic part is that while they want to be treated like adults they don't want to take any responsibility for their actions. They don't realize that adulthood is 90 percent responsibility and only 10 percent freedom. Instead, they think being kicked out of the house is going to give them freedom to do whatever they want. I hope this experience will be a wake up call but I don't know that they have really hit rock bottom yet. It's incredibly frustrating and sad to watch their fall, but in the end it is necessary so they can finally seek out the help they need.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The farmers market

Today on the Capitol lawn several commodity groups are sponsoring a farmers market. It's a neat idea and I plan on stopping by later today to pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables. Farmers markets are an emerging trend in agriculture. With the worries about food inspection and reported problems with foreign food (Chinese) there seems to be growing interest in buying food locally.

I was visiting with some friends Saturday night who are heavily into the buy local mentality. They pay a large sum of money up front and receive fruits and vegetables throughout the summer from a local farmer. They encouraged me to do the same but frankly, I don't like being tied to a certain menu based on what that farmer can harvest during a given week. I also fear that I wouldn't end up eating all the vegetables they'd send me and it would be a big waste of money and food.

But their participation in that program led into a greater discussion of why we should all buy local food. Buying local is a romantice ideal which is environmentally and community friendly. I agree with it in principle, but not altogether in practice. In an ideal world it would be great to buy all my food from farmers in my community. Spending locally can significantly contribute to the local economy. But the reality is that buying local can sometimes be inconvenient and costly.

So I have taken the middle road. I don't drive from store to store searching for Michigan grown products but I do shop at the farmers market when I can. If I am in a grocery store I give preference to Michigan products, and I don't mind spending a little more money on certain items if I know the farmer. The nice thing about Michigan is that we do have quite a variety of food. In fact, Michigan is the second most diverse agricultural state in the country next to California.

In the end I have no idea if my buying habits make much of a difference in the new "flat earth economy" but hopefully they do. Regardless, local food generally tastes better and that's probably the best reason of all to buy local.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Victory is Defeat

Sen. John Tester has outlined a new Iraq policy designed to bring the troops home. What makes his proposal interesting is that it's based on the premise that we have already achieved our stated objectives in Iraq. He states that we have searched for the weapons of mass destruction, removed Saddam Hussein from power and oversaw democratic elections. Essentially we have completed our mission and now it's time to end the war.

This is a new strategy in addressing the war. Over the past few years the media has relentlessly reported that we are losing the war and that we should get out before it gets any worse. This message has resonated with the American public making this war very unpopular. So why change the course and now declare victory as the reason to get out of Iraq? It appears that this effort is a way to end the war while selling the notion that we are still a superpower that cannot be defeated. This idea appeals to the public because we like to consider ourselves invincible and better than anybody else, especially a bunch of third world terrorists.

Tester's message of claiming victory in defeat reminds me of the book 1984. I just started reading it a couple weeks ago and his proposal fits right into the doublespeak methods utilized in the book. The government uses phrases like "war is peace,” “freedom is slavery” and "ignorance is strength” to confuse and enslave the public. I am not suggesting that this is Tester's goal but I do believe he inentionally manipulating language by changing the definition of success in Iraq to fit his agenda. Most rational people can observe the war in Iraq and determine that we are far from our goals in the region. But these same people will jump at the chance to leave and claim victory under Tester's scenario simply because they want to believe that truth.

The public's reaction to his proposal will be interesting to watch, especially contrasted to the long held notion that we are losing the war. Either way it looks more and more likely that we will be leaving Iraq before the year's end. Victory or not.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Not Much?

I just ran into a friend of mine who works in my building. He asked me what I've been up to and without thinking, I told him not much. As I got on the elevator I began to realize that I really did do a lot of things since I was him last week Thursday. My stepsister came to town, I visited with my Stepbrother Chris whom I hadn't seen in several years. I played with my niece and nephew, took several boat rides on my parents lake, played Golf, went to a Tigers game, attended a friends wedding, celebrated my nephews birthday party, toured a million dollar home in Grand Rapids and won my weekly home poker game. And this is just off the top of my head.

It's telling that my natural answer to that question is to ignore all the things I have done and simply shrug my shoulders as if to say my life is boring. Maybe I am just giving him the answer that I expect he wants to hear. Or I just didn't want to spend 20 minutes explaining to him all my activities and that's fine. But sometimes I need to remind myself that I shouldn't shortchange all the good things in my life.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Olga's Kitchen

My stepsister Kelly recently came to Michigan to visit. I always enjoy her company and her kids are great. Whenever she comes, we have a tradition of going to Olga's Kitchen. It's Kelly's favorite restaurant and they don't have any locations in Kentucky. The funny thing is that my whole family gets the exact same thing every time we go to Olga's. In fact, I could probably order for the entire table as I have heard them order so many times. This time however, I was going to try and break the routine. The menu has about 25 different sandwiches but in the end I chose my usual, an Olga's original with a small salad and fries. It wasn't the most adventuresome choice but definitely a safe one. It made me realize how many other areas in my life where I choose the safe choice in lieu of trying something new. Maybe I am just a creature of habit.