Saturday, October 31, 2009

My relationship with the National Football League

After 11 years of ordained ministry, with much of my weekend energy devoted to be ready for Sunday worship services, and fatigue taking most of my energy from Sunday afternoons, I have realized that the NFL and I are drifting apart.

To the NFL: it's nothing personal. It's not you. It's me. Listening to constant breakdown of a Seahawks game that I either don't have the energy to watch, or I completely miss, only emphasizes that we don't have much of a relationship. Our relationship really started to fade when the officials became the game during the Seahawks-Steelers Super Bowl. I'm sure you didn't plan things to happen that way. But I look at that and see that event as the beginning of the end.

Sure, you, the NFL, have more popularity than ever before. You are the best run professional sports entity in the world. Good marketing, good executive leadership, good product on the field. I don't have time anymore to follow you. My relationships have been better cultivated with the Edmonton Oilers, Kansas Jayhawks basketball and football, the Seattle Mariners, anything with the University of Washington (especially football). I will smile when I see Huskies and Jayhawks play in your league and I will pull for their success. I will occasionally peek and listen to bits about the league. I know I'm missing out on one of the biggest leisure activities in the world. I no longer have the time. It doesn't mean I won't watch a portion of a game or even a whole game if time allows, the calendar aligns, and the Seahawks are interesting. But I cannot carve out any time for us to have a relationship anymore. We will be acquaintances with memories from our past.

Maybe after my children move out of the house and I am retired from ministry, maybe you and I can get together a little more often and even be friends again. I might even jump on a bandwagon briefly if the Seahawks surge back into relevancy (I have no shame in that--we at least have a history together). I realized that we weren't really friends anymore when I turn the radio station or turn on my iPod whenever the talking heads start talking Seahawk intricacies.

I wish you well, NFL and Seattle Seahawks. I am thankful for what we had, and hopeful for what you can be, but I cannot give you my passion or energy any longer. God speed.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Deepening theological poverty

Looking back on my posts over the past two months, I've noticed that my posts have become less explicitly theological. Now that I'm preaching again on a regular basis and talking about God with adults--my need to write about these things has shifted to other forums. This blog has been an outlet for me when I had no congregation and I needed to keep my sanity in the midst of moving and talking with a three year old for most of the day. I may still hit some theological themes on occasion, but today I wanted to reflect the deeper theological poverty of my writing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Autumn (Entry #5 in the madhousegazette South Dakota Lexicon)

Autumn in South Dakota is a season that can produce some of the most glorious colors on the planet--about every 6 or 7 years, or if you don't blink during a few choice days in the month of October. South Dakota specializes in Earth tones, especially Eastern South Dakota--with the dearth of evergreen trees and lack of sizable aqua-topography--one has to learn to appreciate Earth tones or go crazy.

The leaves changing color can be quite beautiful. However, multiple variables must align:

1. Wet summer. Possible.
2. Cool and/or low wind September. Less likely than #1.
3. Low wind October once the leaves actually turn color. Almost impossible.

In order for autumn beauty to last more than 3 days, these three variables must align. A stiff wind (almost constant) can take down awe-inspiring color in about 3 days. I remember being thankful to be in South Dakota during the autumn months--when the cool down finally comes (ahhh)--then I have my hopes dashed with the first big wind from the Northwest comes and the leaves fly through the air in a Technicolor (fall version) display (amazing in its own right) and the landscape turns to a depressing drab that is only moderated and made peaceful and calm by the first beautiful snow.

I didn't realize the brevity of glory in a South Dakota autumn until I returned to the Pacific Northwest, where the fall colors have surrounded me in what seems to be like strategic stages of color turning for about 3 weeks--with one tree on WA-16 that continues to greet me in varying lipstick shades of red for going on 2.5 weeks. I keep waiting for the autumn glory to be complete, but it keeps on going. South Dakota colors are comparable, but maybe their short annual visit has made me appreciate my return to the PNW even more.

Not sure I will make a purchase at The Sports Authority again...

My running and fitness habit was in a shambles after a packed vacation week and general chaos about the house in preparation and recovery from the trip. I needed a plan to make positive changes.

Logistics were not working in my favor for reinvesting myself in running. It didn't help that my gear was no longer functional or appropriate. I need gear for cool weather, but not frigid. I really needed new shoes--the cushioning was shot and holes had developed in the forefoot region. Unfortunately, I never found myself near a place to buy my trusted Asics 2000/2100 series, the shoe I have purchased as many as 3 times per year for about 14 years. Running an errand in a different part of the metro, I thought I might find a store that carried my shoes. I found The Sports Authority near Southcenter Mall in Tukwila. I found everything I needed at a fair price (not great, but fair). While checking out, the clerk offered me a buyer protection plan for my new Asics 2140 running shoes for the low, low price of $10. She told me if anything goes wrong with the shoes over the period of one year, then I could get a refund for the shoe. A supervisor came to the register to affirm the great offer The Sports Authority was making me. Now, I know that one year for a running shoe is a long and productive life, and with regular use, one year is a bit too long. For me, I can only afford about a six-month life span for my running shoes, though about 4 would be ideal. If I had a shoe that went kaput after 6 months of good use, I wouldn't return the shoe--because I had received what I paid for--an above-average quality trainer (in a category just below top of the line). I couldn't in good conscience return the shoe after getting what I paid for.

What bothered me about this "protection plan" was why they wouldn't give me a refund if the shoe was defective without an extra 10 dollar payment. These protection plans are scams in the first place to separate you from your money. That was irksome enough. What is more troubling is that basic knowledge and trust in the products a store carries and relationships with customers has mutated into a faux assurance gesture. With all of the running enthusiasts in Western Washington, I think I'm going to find a specialty running store and buy my gear there. I would rather build a trusting relationship with a quality merchant that costs a little more than deal with someone who is trying to dupe me out of extra money with a bait and switch.

Though I'm sure the clerk was well-intentioned and was only given a flow chart to sell this awful air of assurance, I had to let her know, "I've been buying these shoes for 14 years and have never had a problem. No thank you, I am not buying the protection plan." If the shoe falls apart too early, I'm taking it to the manufacturer, not The Sports Authority. I'm sure the size of the company makes it that they don't care about my business, but I will not make a purchase at The Sports Authority if I can at all help it.

I'm practicing to be a curmudgeon. How did I do?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The fun and joy of college football

This is one of the reasons I enjoy college football.

Of course one could complain about the resources wasted on bottled water, or that football is a game that causes brain injuries (something I still attempt to reconcile in my somewhat healthy brain), but sometimes it's really fun to watch Nebraska lose, and to see a jubilant team see the fruits of their labors and that team work really matters. I'm with Pat Forde from ESPN--this is a great celebration for college football.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I thought we've had her much longer...

Check out our growing little girl scooting around our vacation in South Dakota and saying good bye to our former home.

Daughter #2 celebrated her third birthday yesterday. She's hit a language explosion--and I can hardly keep up. The conversations are a little repetitive, but I am thankful for the conversations. We still talk about messes and things that are broken along I-5, the Tacoma Dome and the "castle (cathedral)." We talk about school, which direction we can go, the merits of an immediate hamburger purchase, inquiries about the day's schedule involving Mommy, her sister, church, grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles and aunts, etc. All the talking she's doing and the words and phrases she accumulates makes me wonder what I'm missing during the day--and I miss her. Though its years before I do some serious letting go, she is in the beginning stages of going off and having some conversations of her own. Yet I love that when I walk in the door to pick her up, she drops what she's doing and SPRINTS toward me with a smile on her face and a shout of "Daddy!" from her mouth.

Daughter #2 received a scooter for her birthday, fulfilling a longtime desire to do something like her sister. Now they can scoot together at the park. We might have done that today before the Husky game, but there are bigger fish to fry today. Another birthday party and a trip to the pumpkin patch. I think the girls like Halloween more than Christmas. In some ways, it's debatable. I love autumn--but I've already written that.

The treats have been a challenge so far as the celebrations of fall and early winter accumulate, with Daughter #1 remaining on the Feingold Diet. Dr. Oetker baking products have helped us keep desired treats in the house. The girls don't like them as much as the additive-laden treats, but they are marginally acceptable. There's not a strange ingredient in Dr. Oetker products, and I don't feel funny after eating them. But they do taste different--and actually pretty good once aware of the original differences. I think they added to the celebratory nature of a third birthday--she's having a good time.

It seems like longer than three years with Daughter #2--in a good way.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Favorite Autumn Drives and the Fall Soundtrack

I have driven copious miles recently. Some open road driving with my family (about 3500 miles) and the most frenzied set of back and forth, traffic-weaving, kid-toting, commuting I've ever done. What keeps me more than sane in that environment is my favorite time of year--the fall color display. I will plan my life around seeing some fall colors. Sometimes I take pictures, sometimes I soak in the cool atmosphere with those I love. I could easily say the Northeast US has the best fall colors (always great, but somewhat impractical for me), but I also have other favorites:

+ Northern Minnesota around Bemidji
+ The Minnesota River Valley between Mankato and New Ulm
+ The Cumberland region in Middle to East Tennessee
+ Virginia, especially around the Blue Ridge Mountains
+ Heading toward Northern Wisconsin from the Milwaukee metro toward Ripon and Green Lake.

I forgot how great the fall colors could be in the Puget Sound region. WA-16 on the Kitsap Peninsula has quite a display of fiery orange and red fall maples with a nice contrast to the evergreens. This display reminded me of how much I did take for granted--Mt. Rainier with the Puget Sound, color burst maples, evergreens and the Olympics--all mysteriously cottoned with fog, as if Bob Ross and God worked together to burn the images in my brain. My photography can't do this justice. I need to stop and at least try.

Some songs play better for me during the autumn months. I like bluegrass this time of year and almost anything with steel guitar. I don't know why. There's a few other songs that seem to register as well. My Fall Soundtrack:

Let Me Touch You For Awhile--Alison Krauss
Gravity--Alison Krauss
Jessica--Allman Brothers
Ramblin' Man--Allman Brothers
September--Earth, Wind and Fire
Best of Luck--Nickel Creek
Lonesome Wind Blues--Rhonda Vincent
It'll Never Be Thru With Us (Until It's Thru With You)--The Wilders
That Old Time Religion--The Wilders
Green and Gray--Nickel Creek

Monday, October 19, 2009

Worn-out blogger (the October 19th edition)

I spent over 50 hours in a car this past week. I know some ride for a living, so I know the amount of time in car travel is relative. We took a fun family trip. It's the getting to the fun family trip that can be painful. Amazingly, I think they still love me.

We were a few degrees away from a blizzard, so I will consider us blessed to be home alive. I'm looking forward to returning to the writing rhythm.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Worn out language (October 12, 2009 edition) "Just Saying"

"Just saying." Or as Rev. Run (yes, formerly of RUN-DMC) likes to tweet, "Jus sayin'"

I quickly tired of this little colloquialism. "Just saying" reared its head in forums from Twitter to the publications of some of my favorite journalists. I've ascertained this phrase somewhat parallels IMHO (in my humble opinion). The spirit of usage is softening a sharp observation--"I'm merely stating what I observe, so what I see is not necessarily my problem, but I've got a problem with what I see." I think this opinion/observation disqualifier was spawned by a hyperbolic outrage culture that screams opinions. People still want to share their opinions and observations, but they don't want to look like jerks doing it. Therefore stick a "just saying" on the end somehow makes the observation uttered with a little more decorum. I think it falls flat. Just saying.

Consider the Southern U.S. cousin to "just saying," "bless his/her/their little heart(s)." They may not have the exact same function, but they both serve as opinion softening agents. Though the Southern version can be much more nasty, yet somewhat compassionate--(for example, "What a jerk. Bless his little heart.") the Southern version has had staying power, probably because of its charm. Though the phrase can be abused as a license to say anything you want about anything or anyone, there is also a spirit of recognizing the sinful potential of one's own tongue. "Just saying" has quickly become annoying. This phrase is well-intentioned, but the spirit of communication should be clear in tone and/or body language (more challenging online) without adding the phrase.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sportswriters in Husky Stadium scramble to rewrite stories

I almost turned off the television and got to work on important things like paying bills, packing for our family trip and cleaning up the house. Steve Sarkisian's Washington Huskies are an advertiser's dream because you can't turn off the television during a game, lest you miss some drama. Drama is the lifeblood of college football. I had to rewrite my own evening story as the Huskies through their continuous effort rewrote the story of the game with little time to spare. The sportswriters are scrambling, the fans are celebrating, and once again, I'm looking for someone to hug. I called my Dad, and he had given up the game to slumber. We enjoyed the outcome for a few minutes while he scrambled for highlights.

The earlier game against USC doesn't look so much like a fluke now. I can watch that Immaculate Reception Junior interception tonight repeatedly.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

An evolving relationship with coffee (part 6)

Now that I am fully in the swing of working life again, I find myself more desperate at times to stay alert. More shuffling of kids, more immediate demands, more necessary generation of ideas. I'm not a full member of the coffee or caffeine cults, but the trend moves in that direction. Whenever I do drink coffee, I must doctor it up with ice, silk and sugar (my preference), or chocolate, motor oil, or whatever I can stick in there to make the coffee tolerable. Because I'm in charge of coffee consumption and don't use it as a social lubricant, I control the taste.

However, I got lazy the other day. Whizzing through McDonald's the other day (I'm a sucker for their Monopoly game) I bought a coffee and had cream and sugar added. With one smell and one drink I was reminded of all the years of coffee loathing in my lifetime--the coffee hater's version of the dying person's life flashing before them. I gagged. I gave it three chances, thinking that settled, then shaken cream and sugar would somehow make it taste better. Yuck.

Coffee loathers, stay vigilant. Get your caffeine (if you need it) and get out.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Getting ready for another vacation

After almost 6 weeks of solid work in the office and the community, I'm getting ready for another trip. Six weeks of working outside the home has turned me back into a morning person. I am way too tired at night to function. I gather rally my gumption and give the girls a quality evening for bath time, homework, reading and prayers. I could barely bring myself to fold any laundry last night. I feel like I'm making up for lost time in adult conversations--so work energizes me at this point, even though I'm an introvert. I haven't earned a vacation in terms of time served, it will be good for pacing to get away. I'm glad my congregation gave me some grace so I could travel back to South Dakota with my family. My dear wife has a reunion to attend, so we're making a family trip out of it.

Thinking it's been almost 6 months since we came to the Pacific Northwest, it sometimes feels like a long time, yet other times--we just departed. Days have rarely flown by for me--I don't know if it's a gift I have, something I have yet to experience, or what it is about my brain that gives me an even pace to my days. I'm looking forward to seeing a few friends and watch my dear wife enjoy the glory of her college days and friends.

What needs to be accomplished before departure is what feels oppressive.

+ Dog needs a major health check up and prep for being kenneled.
+ Honda Element needs new tires. Especially with all the mountain snow across the Cascades and Rockies in recent days.
+ My home office is in a shambles. I barely know which end is up in there.
+ Small thing, yet still time consuming--I need a haircut, for what hair I have remaining.
+ Pack for the 1500 mile drive--kid provisions, dog provisions, contingency scenarios, temporarily cleaning the vehicle.
+ Communicate with service providers and educators about absence.

I will be adding to this list, no doubt.

I've learned enough lessons over the years that I provided a preaching-free zone for 2-3 weeks around my trip so that my all-consuming weekly task of speaking in front of 400-plus people, plus a television audience, will not eat me alive while I try to haul my family across hundreds of miles. I'll be glad when we actually get in the car--but it's really time to buckle down.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Alas, Poor Theology

Recently I've found that I get plenty of theology at work in my new congregation--and therefore this blog serves as an escape for me from becoming a complete theological nerd. The trend in my writing here moves more toward implicitly than explicitly theological.

Regardless of explicitly or implicitly theological writing, rest assured, the theology will remain poor. I have a reputation to uphold.

Forget Limbaugh and Olbermann, the comedians are a lot closer to reality

The United States is sitting at a high level of anxiety if political commentary screamers have the most power. They're only accountable to their own power bases, and not to the general public. The louder they scream, the higher ratings they get. What greater good is served in watching/reading/listening to already agreed upon commentary?

I enjoyed Saturday Night Live's take on Obama's presidency, even if PolitiFact gives Obama a little slack on some of Obama's promises lampooned on SNL. What I like about PolitiFact is that it steers clear of ideological based critique and hold Obama accountable for what he said he was going to do--which is much more interesting and at least more objective than ideological screaming heads like Olbermann, Beck and their ilk.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

I think my Husky elation has turn into deflation, then maybe to wisdom

Almost nothing could diminish the joy of watching the UW Huskies beat USC in person. I think it would end up hurting if they didn't win another game the rest of season and that win ends up merely in upset lore among my football brethren, like Mississippi State beating Florida a few years ago and getting Ron Zook fired. I don't want that game to be only a fun victory in an otherwise lost season.

The game today against Notre Dame was a dagger, because the victory over USC is looking more like luck all the time (though I really don't believe that). The Huskies have the talent at QB and receivers, and a mere few on defense, but it's not enough to play with the big boys. To secure momentum, they almost have to win next week at home against Arizona. The games don't get any easier. I want them to give Arizona a beat down and get some momentum back.

Though my life doesn't hang on the Huskies success, it's fun to follow the UW and gives me a little bit of reflection about from where I come. It represents my Granddad and his GI bill, a dream, and being the first member of his family to graduate from college, my father and him scraping by to build some vocational hope through his education, young men learning about responsibility, work ethic and grit. Husky athletics represents some pride in a region and a particular way of doing things. Husky athletics represents the higher education experience. I know from my own personal experience as a collegiate athlete about the dark side of athletics, but I will always come back. Even if I feel deflated for a few days.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Is it worn-out language? Will it be worn-out language? Snarky

The word "snark" anecdotally has picked up steam in public discourse. Keith Law calls himself a "deliverer of snark." One of my favorite twitter feeds is SnarkyJesus. Keith and SnarkyJesus have a following because of their snarkacious abilities.

I have to admit, I like the word snarky. I'm not sure I like snarky as a general posture or attitude. I like how Keith Law tends to use it for instances when he receives a statement that has little or no thought behind it. I'm not sure snark inspires growth in the snarkee, but in this newly expanded idea of "all the world's indeed a stage (imagining Geddy Lee rockin' out to one of my favorite songs of all time, Limelight)," I enjoy watching someone get snarked. If I receive snark, it needs a foundation in thought to be enjoyable.

Hard to tell what the shelf life of this word will be. Time to go read some Keith Law for my Recommended Daily Allowance of snark today.