Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Is Boxing Day in Highland Park, Texas

With my eye on the score of the Rangers game, Angela and I took a walk last night through Highland Park to see what Halloween is like in a very affluent neighborhood.

According to Wikipedia, Highland Park is the 3rd wealthiest location in Texas; 19th in the country (with at least 1,000 people). Thousands go through Highland Park between Thanksgiving and the New Year to see all of the beautiful decorations on the mansions. Halloween is also a fantastic time to see the great lengths people go through to create a ghoulish scene at their homes.

Highland Park is in the heart of Dallas, Texas. Dallas, itself, is not doing as well. More than 20% of people in Dallas live below the poverty level. When you break it down by age, it jumps to 33% of children under the age of 18. That's more than 107,000 kids.

Last night, it looked like this population went to Highland Park for candy.

Boxing Day

As Angela and I saw hundreds of people gathered on each block of Highland Park, I couldn't help but think about a British Commonwealth holiday called Boxing Day.

Boxing Day traditionally is the day after Christmas. We don't celebrate this holiday in most of the United States -- likely because it seems too socialist -- but it does pop up occasionally. Boxing Day is a day where people give back. Many times it was a form of spring cleaning, during which people would box up the old items that were replaced by this year's Christmas gifts, and then they would give them to the house servants or other service people. It has somewhat transformed into a time to give money and other gifts, also.

Halloween as Boxing Day

It's a well-known "secret" that Highland Park and its sister town, University Park, employee many people in the service industry. A vast majority of them only speak Spanish. Just ask the staff at Christ's Family Clinic at Preston Road Church of Christ. Last night, Spanish-speaking chidren and parents outnumbered English-speaking families at least 2 to 1; Latinos outnumbered white people about 8 to 1. Every house that was giving out candy gave generously and with a smile.

As great as it was, the whole night gave me an uneasy feeling.

It was great seeing all of the children having a wonderful time at the Halloweeny homes, but there were a few troubling aspects of the evening. I've bulleted them below:

  • Too many cars: Since everyone had to drive to HP, they parked in front of all of the houses on both sides of the narrow streets. This made it hard to drive through, and it also made it harder to see small children crossing the street. I almost saw one small child smashed by a large truck. Thank God the driver was going very slow.
  • Too many people: On one block on Bordeaux, so many kids had come through the area that people were on the steps just to tell kids they didn't have anymore candy. One house left had candy, and there were between 75 and 100 kids on the front lawn trying to get candy before this house ran out, too.
  • It's candy: Kids love candy, but kids don't need candy. What lesson is being taught when you go through so much trouble just to get some candy?
  • Something is wrong with other neighborhoods: The fact that so many people flood to Highland Park not only says something about Highland Park, but it also says a lot about their own neighborhoods. Is it just cheaper candy, or is there also the danger of wandering around at night in their 'hood? I'd say it's as much the latter as the prior.
Angela works with many children who come from homes of immigrants. She is amazed at how readily Spanish-speaking families have adopted Halloweeen as a holiday. Last night proved that point very well.

Overall, Angela and I walked home amazed at what we had just witnessed. The Halloween decorations and music were great, but we were speechless about the whole experience. I walked away asking myself, "Is there a better way?" How can we provide for the children in our community without going to this extent? I honestly do not know. Part of me loves that these kids had a fantastic night. But the other part is a little sick about the way it had to happen.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Balloons Fly Away

Friday night Angela and I went to a high school football game. It was a sad day for the home team Trojans, but everyone else seemed to have a good time. It was "Little Trojan Night", so there were tons of young kids at the game. In order to make it more fun for the kids, just about every kid was given a helium-filled balloon. In addition, the drill team did a special high kick routine dedicated to those serving abroad and those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Tons of red, white, and blue balloons added to the routine. Overall, I think I counted about 250 balloons that were released Friday morning.

Two thoughts came to my mind: (1) There aren't a lot of things cooler than watching balloons float away, and (2) how the heck are we able to get away with littering just because the trash goes up, not down? I want to focus on this second point.

According to the Texas Health and Safety Code, "Litter" includes "decayable waste from a public or private establishment, residence, or restaurant, including animal and vegetable waste material from a market or storage facility handling or storing produce or other food products, or the handling, preparation, cooking, or consumption of food, but not including sewage, body wastes, or industrial by-products." Tex. Health & Safety Code sec. 365.011(6)(A). Section 365.011 goes on to tell us it is a Class C misdemeanor if the litter is under five pounds and has a volume of less than 5 gallons. If it is more, it is a class B misdemeanor up to 500 pounds or 100 cubic feet of volume -- then it's a class A misdemeanor (you can get jail up to a year).

I'm going to go ahead and say that with the release of over a hundred balloons could make you liable for a class B misdemeanor. I have seen mention of a specific "balloon release" statute, but couldn't find anything in my research.

Apparently the main problem with balloons is not the balloon itself, but rather the strings that are often attached to them. According to this website, funded by The Balloon Council (who knew they had a balloon council?), balloons aren't a problem at all. Latex balloons (the non-silver ones) are made from 100% organic material and are completely biodegradeable. The website also points out the "proper" way to do a balloon release. It does not include the strings.

Regardless of what this website says, I doubt that the hundred or so balloons that were released from the stands were an official, approved release. I also wonder, without knowing for sure if there is an official release statute, if the school can be held criminally liable for release of all of the balloons. If not for the big release, at least with negligently supplying small children and others with balloons that were more likely than not going to be released into the air.

It's also interesting to note that the Texas Health and Safety Code lists latex balloons as a "choking hazard" See For the same reasons it is dangerous for children, it is dangerous for animals. Check out this website from Virginia. It apparently contradicts The Balloon Council's claims with what the Council calls mere "subjective" data.

I know it looks cool, but isn't there a better option? On top of that, shouldn't a "Christian school" be leading the way in showing us how to be good stewards of our planet? It's not hard to be responsible . . . unless you don't care.

The Church Response on Cliff Manor

The following is an email I received. It lets us know that not everyone is upset about the way things went or are going down in Oak Cliff's newest permanent supportive housing project, Cliff Manor. The letter has been reprinted with permission. We need to all remember that we are called to be in the people-helping business, not property-value-helping business.

Oak Cliff Churches Silence Opponents of Housing Homeless by Acts of Kindness

Will You Be My Neighbor? How Oak Cliff groups have become great neighbors to former homeless through the assistance of the Greater Dallas Justice Revival.

Good Neighbor Done Right

In a time where there is so much controversy over what to do with the homeless, a group of Oak Cliff churches and residents are showing how to truly be Good Neighbors. Over the past several weeks, a group of Oak Cliff residents have quietly been reaching out to their seventeen new neighbors, who were formerly homeless. The new home for the seventeen individuals is the Cliff Manor, a Dallas Housing Authority property.

Baskets and Hugs

When residents moved into the facility a few weeks ago, five Oak Cliff churches provided gift baskets and greeted the residents with open arms. In addition to inviting them to church, they have special group meetings. On a recent Thursday night, eleven of the seventeen new residents attended a “Friendship Circle” that included interaction around a bible study and prayer. The event led by Roger and Jana Jackson has proven to be a great success.

In reaching out their new neighbors, these groups of Oak Cliff residents are giving a living demonstration of how to help our formerly homeless citizens become neighbors with grace and dignity. Churches involved in the outreach led by Cliff Temple Baptist Church, also include Christ Episcopal, Gospel Lighthouse, Grace Temple Baptist, Oak Cliff House Church Network, and Kessler Community Church.

Serving as a Catalyst

Behind the scenes, the Greater Dallas Justice Revival has been privileged to help be a catalyst for these “Good Neighbor” efforts by organizing leaders, building dialog and sponsoring outreaches. The Greater Dallas Justice Revival has partnered with Dallas Housing Authority and the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance to engage local churches into Good Neighborhood Covenant Councils. The Greater Dallas Justice Revival sponsored the meetings with the local pastors who then invited their members to be involved.

The councils consist of local Dallas Housing Authority (DHA) residents, formerly homeless new residents, DHA property management, social service representatives, Dallas Police representatives, local church representation, local community residents, and an outreach coordinator to the community.

West Dallas Success
The council is modeled after the successful similar model that helped launch a safe community initiative five years ago in West Dallas. In previous years crime in West Dallas was out of control, violent crime was rampant, and fear ruled the community. Since the launching of the initiative violent crime has been reduced seventy percent and overall crime by forty percent.

The West Dallas model was organized by Strategic Justice Initiatives, Inc., an educational non- profit for the development of safe communities. Strategic Justice Initiative’s executive director, Randy Skinner, worked with Norm Henry of Builders of Hope, a community development non- profit and home builder, to organize more than 50 community leaders to form a campaign to eradicate crime.

The two non profits led in the development of a U.S. Justice Department launch of a Weed and Seed site (that eradicates crime and develops healthy communities). Strategic Justice Initiatives developed a block by block, house by house, reclamation database with support services, and Builders of Hope brought their successful home building program and holistic approach to the process. Dramatic results have followed including a housing renaissance, school reclamation, and economic development.

Oak Cliff Transformation

When a town hall meeting in Oak Cliff was led by opponents to placing rehabilitated homeless individuals into the Cliff Manor public housing site, a silent group of attendees determined to put a different face on Oak Cliff. During the closing of the tumultuous evening session, Skinner, a resident of nearby West Dallas, who also serves as director of the Greater Dallas Justice Revival, shared that the faith community would walk with the formerly homeless and work with the support agencies assigned to make their new homes a success.

Skinner knew the rich history of Oak Cliff faith community commitment to the homeless and mentally handicapped for the past decade led by Cliff Temple Baptist Church and The Well, a ministry to the disadvantaged.

True to his word, and the nature of the faith community in Oak Cliff, seventeen new residents feel welcomed and wanted.

The wonderful welcome and outreach from the “Good Neighbors of Oak Cliff” deeply touched the lives of their seventeen new neighbors. The Greater Dallas Justice Revival was celebrates the unity in Oak Cliff and looks forward to helping other communities and churches become “Good Neighbors”.

Thank you so much for your contributions, hard work, and continued prayers, and support for the Greater Dallas Justice Revival. We would appreciate you help in expanding this much needed work. Help us help Dallas be a community that is known for its “Good Neighbors”. If your interested in serving on a council, or serving in a service project, please contact us today by filling out the volunteer form.

The work of the Greater Dallas Justice Revival is made possible by the generous donations of people who have a desire to see our community transformed. This past year thousands of volunteer hours were donated in outreach projects to help the hungry and our inner city schools. We urgently need your financial support to continue this work. Please give generously.

Randy H. Skinner
Executive Director
Greater Dallas Justice Revival
Read more on the exciting results of church outreach in Oak Cliff from a local resident:

Join our movement to support the new residents into housing with support services by volunteering. Click here:

Echoing the words of Mother Teresa, as he reflected on the new residents of Cliff Manor, Skinner said: “The material and physical suffering is suffering from hunger, from homelessness, from all kinds of diseases. But the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, having no one. I have come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bus Ridin' in the Rain

I'm on the bus again heading to work. I can still smell the experience from yesterday as mildew starts to grow. Yesterday, as many already know, was a pretty eventful day for weather. It culminated at about 6:30 for Angela and me as we saw that the funnel cloud had passed and time had come to put the mattress back on the bed and go to our bible study.

The start of the day was also pretty eventful. I decided to take the bus, because I wante
d to see who rides the bus in bad weather. Since the bus had been coming a few minutes early these past few weeks, I decided to leave my apartment at 8:10 to catch the 8:18. I had shoes at the office, so I rolled up my pants and put on my flip-flops. As soon as I left my apartment, I realized the bus wasn't going to be early. The light at Lemmon and Inwood was flashing red (and still is), and cars were waiting as far as I could see in all directions. About the time I saw this the wind picked up rendering my umbrella useless except for keeping my already wet hair from getting wetter.

I quickly walked to CVS to seek shelter for a few minutes, pretending to look for a drink. When I became nervous that the bus might pass, I went back outside. Instead of standing at the stop where rain was blowing and cars were splashing, I found the one dry circle at the side of the CVS and began watching the intersection while the propane containers watched me from their cages.

Thirty minutes later, at about the time the next bus usually arrives, I saw my bus approach the intersection. I walked back out to the stop one car too early--the car hit the puddle and splashed my legs. Once on the bus it wasn't too bad. Every time the bus would slow down, a river of water would cascade to the front. When it sped up again, the water evened back out.

This blog has gone on way too long without talking about the purpose of my bus ride: the other people. I have a car and a bike, so I have options. Most people who ride the bus can't say the same. I guess part of me was expecting to see only the poorer population that rides the bus taking the bus in the rain. But to my surprise it was basically the same crowd that takes the bus every morning: some with no jobs, some with well-paying jobs; most alone, but some with friends or kids. Every race was represented as usual. I also expected people to be in bad moods. Again, I was wrong. Some people were tired like every morning, but I think most were just happy to be on the bus.

As I try to close this over-long entry, I'm trying to think about conclusions I can make about my experience yesterday. I guess I can break it down into two things: (1) People ride the bus because it's the better option most of the time, and (2) getting wet on your way to work isn't as bad as most people make it out to be. Not strong conclusions, but I think they are filled with truth.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Books I'm Reading

I've been trying to get back in the written word more, and now that Angela and I have finished watching the final season of Veronica Mars, we are spending less times watching pictures that talk at us. Now I'm relying on my imagination to paint pictures.

I recently finished the 700+ page Brisingr by Christopher Paolini. I got stuck in the middle for a while, but then it finished just in time to set it up for the final book that may or may not ever come. So now I've picked up the books below and I have several on deck. Below are the ones I'm currently going back and forth between.

unChristian is a fantastic book so far. It takes research done over several years by the Barna Group and shows us where Christians are getting it wrong when dealing with people outside of the church and dealing between generations within the church. In addition, the authors use plenty of scripture to back it up. If you're wondering whether door-knocking and pamphlet-giving works, checkout this book.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter offers insight into the favorite president of many, including myself. In addition, it offers proof that the vampire craze isn't something new -- it's been around for at least 8 score and 5 years.

The Strategy-Focused Organization doesn't have "pictures", but it does offer plenty of graphs and charts, which are a lot like pictures. I'm reading this one to get a better understanding of the role strategy plays in organizations, especially cutting-edge ones like Central Dallas Ministries.

Good to Great is another book on understanding how to improve organizations. I like this one a lot.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Peace, Hope . . . Justin?

I have a t-shirt from Pepperdine that I like a lot. It's from MLK Day 2003. At Pepperdine, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a Day of Peace, Hope, and Justice. On the t-shirt it says "Peace", "Hope", and "Justice" in small white letters. When I wear it, people always say, "Whoa, you got your name on your shirt? That's . . . Oh, wait. It says, 'Justice'."

"Justice" ain't what it used to be. Just like "Hope" and "Change", people are now rallying around this phrase "Social Justice". I drove by a church yesterday that had the phrase on a yard sign to try and bring people in. We are in danger of turning that phrase into a broad meaningless void that really doesn't mean anything.

One thing we all know, however, is that it is a liberal phrase. Glenn Beck told us that. People hear "social" and think socialism. "Social intercourse" for many people now means an orgy while reading quotes from Marx. Many people who trend toward conservative viewpoints hear "social justice" and think, "Oh, great. Another handout for people who are lazy."

I want to share a story. It's a story most of us know, but we may not think about it as a story of social justice. We usually hear it as a story of grace and loving one another. You know what, that's what social justice is. Here it is:
There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man's condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I'll pay you on my way back.'

(Luke 10:30-35, The Message)

Would it change the story it it was a rich man traveling? A poor man traveling? The Samaritan -- the bad guy to the Jews -- gave the man a handout. He didn't force the man to become an indentured servant of his to repay the loan. He didn't force him to go to education classes to learn how to avoid being robbed when traveling on the highway. The Samaritan showed the man mercy when other "godly" people wouldn't. And he simply loved the man.

That is what Social Justice is. And that is 100% liberal. It's also 100% of what we are called to do. As Brent Clifton pointed out recently on this blog: "When will we learn the simplicity of 'Love the Lord thy God; and Love your neighbor as yourself; upon these, all the law and the prophets are built'" (Matthew 22:37-40).

We are not called to worry about what they are going to do with "our" hard-earned money they get as a handout. We are simply called to
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8. Go and do likewise.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Hippy, Hipster, or Helpful

I bought a pair of Toms shoes during our tax free weekend. I like how they feel like moccasins. Then I started to think about how they looked kind of like shoes a hippy would wear. And then I thought about how hippies used to wear moccasins. But I thought, I shower and dress too nice to be a hippy. Does that make me a hipster? Finally, I came to the conclusion that I was helping by wearing my Toms. I was helping first and foremost children in other countries who don't have the luxury of affording shoes of such quality. Second, I was helping my feet by having comfortable shoes.

Plus, they aren't too casual to where to work when I wear jeans. And that can't be bad, right?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Church Changes

Below I have included some thoughts from John Calvin. Last Sunday, Randy Gill spoke at our church about how worship has changed over the last 2000 years. He used this quote to show that the changes that have taken place are not as serious as every generation seems to think.

I will take it a step further on an issue that is close to my heart: women's role in the church. The church is one of the last areas reaching toward equality even though Jesus was radical in his treatment of women, the church of the 20th and 21st century has been the last place to treat women equally. Here are Calvin's words:

By this one example we may judge what opinion we should have of this whole class. I mean that the Lord has in his sacred oracles faithfully embraced and clearly expressed both the whole sum of true righteousness, and all aspects of the worship of his majesty, and whatever was necessary to salvation; therefore, in these the Master alone is to be heard. But because he did not will in outward discipline and ceremonies to prescribe in detail what we ought to do (because he foresaw that this depended upon the state of the times, and he did not deem one form suitable for all ages), here we must take refuge in those general rules which he has given, that whatever the necessity of the church will require for order and decorum should be tested against these. Lastly, because he has taught nothing specifically, and because these things are not necessary to salvation, and for the upbuilding of the church ought to be variously accommodated to the customs of each nation and age, it will be fitting (as the advantage of the church will require) to change and abrogate traditional practices and to establish new ones. Indeed, I admit that we ought not to charge into innovation rashly, suddenly, for insufficient cause. But love will best judge what may hurt or edify; and if we let love be our guide, all will be safe.
It's not about women; it's about the fact that what seemed right yesterday may not be right today, and tomorrow, who knows. There's something to think about. Comments are always welcome.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mexico Needs Our Help

That such a proud and troubled country has been struggling and hurting for so long is a verguenza that should burn in every North American's heart. Now the country that is closer to us in history and culture and geography than all others but one is in the midst of being crushed by a dark hand from within. I just read an article by The Wall Street Journal called "Mexico Under Siege". It's no longer just a poor area or border area issue; all of Mexico is at risk.

I do not understand how we have let this happen. Did our government think NAFTA was all we needed to solve emigration and poverty in Mexico? If it did, I think we can safely move past that misguided effort into the war that sits a few feet away from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

We have heard so much about protecting our borders. But you can't treat the symptom without fighting the illness. Immigrants come to the United States illegally, and we hate them for it. But if they stay they could end up being added to the more than 28,000 who have been murdered since 2006.

Immigration reform will not be successful until we help our neighbor. We will not win the war on drugs until we help our neighbor. I know we're not a Christian nation, but now is the time to find a solution beyond capitalism. I do not know what the answer is. There are many problems in Mexico and not enough solutions. But we have to try, because Mexico needs our help.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Where My Vampires At?

I like vampire stuff. But this is kind of ridiculous. I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer (tv series more than movie) and Angel, but that stuff was deep and more about growing into an adult and the battles that face us through that process. I was also a big fan of The Monster Squad, but that was more about awesome teenagers than monsters. People are going crazy of the Twilight saga. It's like Lady Gaga in a book series.

However, as a response to the craze, some great things have come out of it. We have the new movie Vampires Suck hitting theaters, and probably the best thing to come out of this is this music video parody of "Billionaire" by Travie McCoy & Bruno Mars.

This video is amazing.

Thank you, Darnell, Alan, Alec, and the rest of the McBeard Media team. It's stuff like this that makes pop culture less annoying and more hilarious.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Foodies: Angela and Me

I don't like to say we're "food snobs". I prefer the term "foodies".

Friday night, Angela and I went to one of our favorite restaurants: Fireside Pies. It's not your typical pizza pie, and for the price they charge it better not be. It was another dinner where Angela and I failed to eat vegetarian, but it was worth it. Laura Currey -- again showing how well she knows Angela and me -- called us "food snobs". We copped up to it, but, thinking about it, the term "foodie" suits us much better. A "foodie" by my definition is one who is very picky about the food he or she ingests. A foodie isn't picky like a child because foodies love all kinds of food. The difference is that a foodie hates food that is poorly made or made of poor quality.

Sometimes it's mental. For example, we avoid high fructose corn syrup like it's the plague. The Dublin Dr. Pepper made with pure can sugar, to me, tastes better than the high fructose corn syrup version. I think it has a cleaner aftertaste. Maybe I'm right, maybe I'm crazy. Either way, I wrote a letter to Blue Bell Homemade Ice Cream suggesting that they do the same thing as Snapple by making a "natural" version of their ice cream. Unfortunately, they responded very defensively with a letter and articles about how high fructose corn syrup is the same as real sugar. Of course, both articles were funded by the corn industry.

Whatever we eat, we try to make sure it is good when it hits our tongue as well as when it is sitting in our bellies. Nobody likes the I-knew-I-shouldn't've-eaten-that feeling. When Angela and I do our budget, we know that we will spend more than Larry Burkett recommends on food, but we want the good stuff. As people who try to be vegans with a sprinkle of cheese (but who still love the taste of meat too much), we want to spend more up front rather than in the long run on our health care costs.

As a result, we feel like we are encouraging others to stand up and say cheap food is not worth the price you pay. We want to taste our food, feel good about it, and make sure the future has plenty of good food left.

I always feel like I should leave a challenge for the reader in the blog. I guess my challenge this time is for you to stay away from the cheapest, fastest food (i.e., McD's, Burger King, Taco Bell, etc.). If you want something quick, take a step up a level: Go to In-N-Out, Chipotle, Which Wich. I'm not telling you to give it up (even though we should). I just want you to do as Which Wich said in the email they sent to me: "Eating healthy at[a place with good food] is like doing pilates for your tongue."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Praying and Doing and Talking

At the bottom of my email is an African proverb that reads,

"Pray, but when you pray, move to your feet."

I demonstrated this for some friends by leaning back, folding my hands, and riding an air bicycle.

In reality, we do far more talking about praying and talking about doing than actually praying and doing.*

A few weeks ago, our Sunday morning bible class met at a friend's place to discuss how we discern God's will in our lives. I made a comment to our group that, based on what I had read (not being a scholar), it seems that Christians in the first couple of centuries weren't worried about these big questions we dwell on (i.e., Why is there evil? What is God's will? etc.). Brent Clifton, a wonderful lawyer who also has an M.Div., quickly corrected me by pointing out several passages where Jesus and his followers set time out to pray and seek God's will (See John, Acts, Romans, etc.). Clarifying my thought, I responded by saying, "Yes, but they were praying and seeking God's will, not just talking about it."

Somewhere along the line our intellects became obese and now our feet can no longer support them. Were are thinkers and we think about ways to do things, but we don't do them.

The faith vs. works argument has no place here, because going to church and having theological discussions is neither. Most of the arguments and debates we have in church are really just ways to avoid doing the things God calls us to do. And it makes sense, because those things are scary. We talk about feeding Jesus, clothing Jesus, visiting him in prison, but when was the last time you helped the least of these?

Sunday morning, as we sit and prepare our minds for worship, let's also prepare our feet. Tighten up your laces, and answer God's call. Stop talking, start praying. And while your praying, move your feet.

* I believe wholeheartedly that praying is doing. By "doing", I want to emphasize the physical actions we do in order to help others.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Code Orange Makes My Lungs Hurt

Yesterday as I was riding my bike to work in the morning, I realized that the air tasted bad. I've been hearing about the air quality and even mentioned it in my post about riding the bus last night. I'm not in Los Angeles, so something seems a bit off.

My question right now, though, is when do I know that riding outside on my bike is actually UNhealthy? When I came home yesterday, I got more of the typical questions I get when I've been on my bike coming home: "Are you really riding in this heat?" The answer has always been "Yes." But the afternoon was more of the morning. The air just seemed worse than it has. It was hot, and I mean haht. However, it was harder to breathe and each breath lacked the relief it usually brings. It was strange and startling.

As I rode past a truck that was left running (in the shade), I breathed in a mouthful of exhaust as I saw the driver standing 10 feet away in an in depth conversation with another person. No wonder we are in this position.

My hope and prayer is that we stop being so selfish and start getting creative--pretty much the theme of all my blog posts so far. We have so many options--carpooling, public transportation, walking, cycling, dancing--and the only thing we lose out on is a little bit of convenience.

That's how I feel. What do you think?

Hip Hoppin' Through the Forest of Bad Rap

I love hip hop music. I can't stand most rap today.

I asked my friend Paul Bost for some good hip hop recommendations yesterday. My only request is that it won't be played before or after Lady Gaga. He's always pointed me in the right direction, but I'm still waiting.

I'd love to be able to turn on the radio or some Music TeleVision. Unfortunately, it seems like that just isn't an option anymore. Now I'm stuck with my iPod with 90s and early 00s hip hop and my occasional visit to

1. Who do you like, Justin?

I thought you might ask. This is a difficult question to answer. Well, I guess it's not that difficult. I'll list some artists, in no particular order, to give you a sampling:

Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, K-OS, Q-Tip, The Procussions, Arrested Development, Black Eyed Peas (pre-Fergie and a few more legit ones since Fergie), Wu-Tang, KRS-One, CB4, Notorious B.I.G., old school Bone, Outkast, The Fugees, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Ahmad, De La Soul, UGK, and Beastie Boys, among others.

I'll admit to one more: Kanye West. I try my hardest to change that. He's not a good MC, but he makes some of the strongest tracks around these days.

2. What's wrong with hip hop today?

I don't even know where to start. Each thing I think about makes me sound either old or conceited. I think the bottomline is that the combination of production and MCin' is missing the purity it once had for me. The MCs, with few exceptions, don't tell stories and don't rhyme with finesse and creativity. The music, including beats, hooks, and samples, feels rushed, because the producers and rappers are just trying to get it out as quickly as possible. On top of all that, rap is mainstream now, and mainstream often requires artists to follow the rules of popularity. Even Texas-style and Dirty-style southern rap isn't as grimy; it's just an imitation of what it once was.

The more I think about it, maybe the only thing wrong with hip hop today is me. Maybe I'm like my parents already. Big band isn't what it used to be. Doo-wop isn't what it used to be. Rock & roll (for every generation) isn't what it used to be. Maybe I should be on that list.

I do like to clarify and classify to help me cope: Rap is not the same as Hip Hop.

3. So what's the difference between rap and hip hop?

One argument says that rap is the music and hip hop is the culture. I agree that hip hop is a culture, but don't think rap is a part of it. Rap is to hip hop as the Romulans are to the Vulcans: They are outwardly indistinguishable to some people, but different in characteristics. Better stated by KRS-One: "This is the difference between an MC and a rap: Rappers spit rhymes that are mostly illegal. MCs spit rhymes to uplift their people." (about 4:15 into this version of "Classic"). Both have a lot of pride (a/k/a "arrogant"), but hip hop has more depth. Hip hop says, "It's like a jungle sometimes; it makes me wonder how I keep from goin' under." Rap says, "money, power, respect [also sex] is what you need in life." Some of the names listed above are from more of a rap style, but there's something redeeming about them from the hip hop standpoint.

I could say so much more about this topic, but I'll save it for later. Next time, I'll put some of my favorite songs of all time so that you can hear those songs and compare them to the junk on the radio these days. Like a good MC would say, you may not agree with me, but I'm right.

And check out this video to do more learning about hip hop:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bus Riding

Do you ever feel like someone is watching you? Yesterday afternoon and this morning I felt like that. When I looked up, I definitely had someone looking right at me. Two different ladies, different ages. My first thought was, "What do I have on my face?" Yesterday and today when I made eye contact, neither of them immediately looked away. I was going to raise an eyebrow or smile or blow a kiss, but I didn't. I just looked back. Then, sensing the awkwardness but not wanting them to feel too uncomfortable, I looked away. When I looked back, they were back to their world.

I wanted to tell you this story to encourage you to ride the bus.

Here's what I think was going through their brains: Admiration. They were thinking about how proud they were that a guy who could be driving chose to save his company money on parking, save gas, and help fight the Air Pollution Watch Level Orange of Dallas. So if that is what you are looking for, then I think you should ride the bus.

I probably just had something on my face.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Black People in Highland Park, White People in South Dallas

"I ain't never been to Highland Park. That's like the 'Beverly Hills' of Dallas, right?"

My neighbor said this, and I was immediately taken aback.

"You've never been to Highland Park? Really?"

Then I thought about it: Of course he hasn't. He's a poor black man from South Dallas. How many people in Highland Park have ever been to South Dallas?

Another black friend of mine who was bouncing couch to couch with relatives was blessed enough to find a more permanent place from a generous family in Highland Park. We joked about how as soon as he enters HP, he makes sure he sits up straight in his car, pauses a long time at each stop sign, signals at every turn, and waves and smiles to all of the police officers. We joke, but we also have a strange sense of a stinging truth.

Even for some of my friends who are financially well-off, certain areas are avoided because of perceived increased scrutiny.

We can argue about whether it is economics or racism. Obviously it's an economic thing. But how long will the economically disadvantaged have darker skin? And, since we know darker skin does not equal poor, how do we explain race away for the financially secure? I have friends who remind me that the war against racism is over. But it's not yet Juneteenth in a lot of white and black people's hearts.

We are called to something better than what we have now. As my friend at Central Dallas Ministries, Jenny Fogel, tweeted, "I think if we don't have friends--real, go to each other's houses friends--of different races, we're missing part of what God intends 4 us." This idea is truly scary to a lot of people. I know there is a large economic divide that must also be crossed, but you can't run a marathon without taking the first step.

As I think of a way to close another disjointed, meandering blog entry, I can't help but wish things were more simple in the game of life. But that's not what life is about. Again, a tweet of profound wisdom from Jenny:

Wouldn't it all be simpler if we were all the same race?
And wouldn't that simplicity rob us of so much beauty and opportunity.

In this ugly world, we have so much opportunity to make things beautiful. It's not easy, but it is better.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Type A in B Person's Coat

My friend Laura pointed out that as hard as I pretended to be a laid back type B personality, really I was just pretending. Deep down I'm really type A.

I couldn't deny it. And Angela seconded it.

I'm super laid back unless it comes to one of the many things I'm quite particular about. I feel like I reveal a lot of those many things on this blog. So that should be something for you to look forward to.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Church Doesn't Mean What It Used To

What have we done to church? I'm no biblical scholar, but I am a man who is trying every day to follow God. This topic and those related to it are very close to my heart. I'll probably write more on it later, but this is just a sampling of my thoughts.

1. What Was the Church?

The body of Christ.

I'm no biblical or historical scholar, and I'm not an expert on languages, translations, and etymology. But my understanding of the "church" mentioned in the New Testament is that it is the body of Christ. I don't remember ever seeing in the bible a mention of the church as a building where they gathered. Among the church, or body, of Christ, each person had a role and function (see Romans 12). As the church in Corinth demonstrated, people from all walks of life existed together. Not only that, they broke bread together, they dined together, and, as a minority with their lives on the line because they dedicated themselves to Christ, they suffered together.

Our "church" is like a lot of houses in Waco, Texas now: some are brokedown versions of themselves while others just have the steps leading to the frontdoor where the house once lived. Church is a place we go now. The meaning has changed. That's okay. The problem is that we have changed, too. Our intellects have gotten in the way of the Spirit. Our individualist mindset has destroyed our community. We have friends at church, but very few are family let alone parts of the same body -- closer than just a family member. Our relationships throughout the week have been replaced by singing and lectures once or twice a week. Which brings us to the next point:

2. Gimmicks Don't Work

Relationships work.

I was going to say, "Jesus didn't do gimmicks." But I guess a miracle is kinda like a gimmick. Have you seen any gimmicks like that lately? Probably not. And he was always going to dinner and just hanging out with people. The gimmicks we do make us feel so creative, but a gimmick doesn't show love. You have to have a relationship for that.

At my old church, the Round Rock Church of Christ, basketball goals were recently installed for neighborhood kids. Balls were left out. And then what happened? Our neighbors played on those goals. So far I hear that is it. Now what?

When we went to Thailand, several of our friends shared stories about how they became Christians. One friend talked about being so scared of Christians at an English camp that he and friends crouched in the cabins hiding because they were scared about what the Christians were going to do or make them do next. All of them said it was the relationship they developed with people at the church. That is how they learned about Jesus.

Now we just need more ways to do this, such as:

3. Carpool to church?

Yes, please.

Save gas, save close parking for those who need it, and, most importantly, build relationships. Distance doesn't matter, relationships do. I've been trying, slowly, to get this started at Preston Road. Our neighborhood has plenty of parking issues and two services is not the answer.

With carpooling, you get to spend time with the people you sit next to in church. It's definitely not the most convenient, and sometimes you might go out of the way to get there. But we need to remember, there are more important things than our convenience. It's true, America.

It's time to change our definition of church back to what it used to mean. We are the body of Christ. We need to stop wasting our creativity on gimmicks [and bad Christian goods], and start getting creative with how we are going to spend more time with the body.

Friday, August 6, 2010

But what do guns really DO?

I saw a bumper sticker on my way to Austin today that really confused me. If it's true, then guns can only be used for good. I'll admit, though, it goes against everything I've learned about guns. The bumper sticker said:
Guns Save Lives
Maybe Yours

That's right. Guns save lives. But, as we've all learned: Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Without getting too political and without interpreting the Constitution, I want to share two of my thoughts about guns.

1. C'mon, Using Guns Is Cheating

Before I lose too many people, I like guns. I think they are super cool. I used to play "guns" when I was a kid, and -- not to brag or anything -- I was good at it. It's good we didn't use live ammo. Now that we know that:

I equate guns in hunting to HGH in baseball: both are performance enhancers that give an unfair advantage to the person using. No matter your game -- deer, birds, human -- it just ain't fair to the other. If hunting is a game, then using a gun is like LeBron playing a bunch of children. I want to see some barehanded stuff like my friends Carson Runge and Stuart White in the video below. If not barehanded, not more than a knife or bow & arrow.

If Brad Pitt can take on a bear with knife, some ingenuity can definitely get you a deer. Then again, a lot of people don't mind cheating.

2. It's Not About the Gun; It's About Control

Now that Number 1 is settled, let's hit this second point. When you have a gun and your "competition" doesn't, you are in control. The decision to use it is yours. The ability to hit the target is yours. The responsibility is yours. Most people want to be in control. More and more people do not want to be responsible. Unfortunately, the equation is Control leads to Power. As Stan Lee reminds us, with great Power comes great Responsibility.

3. What's the Point?

We need to stop fooling ourselves with semantics. People kill people with guns. Guns save lives when used appropriately by people. Both of the mantras used tell only part of the story. Without the proper training and an understanding of the responsibility, a person should not have a gun. When guns are used or misused, a person is always to blame.

Guns don't DO without YOU.*

And, besides, it's cheating.

* I'll take the credit for this cheesy tagline until someone claims otherwise.

Too Early or Too Late?

I'm sitting here after Angela's alarm went a-ringin' at 4:55 a.m. I was going to stay in bed, but I thought I heard someone knocking at the front door. You should never answer the door when someone knocks at 5 a.m. But I thought it was our upstairs neighbor with the 2 year old that is constantly running. I expected her to tell us to quiet down because the irony would have been hilarious. When I checked the eyehole, I thought I saw the side of her head. Turns out it was nothing. But that's not what this blog is about. The questions is as follows:

Where is the border between "too late" and "too early"?

To help you think about this: At what point do you say, "I might as well just stay up if we're leaving that early?" I've always felt the border was at about 4:30 a.m. I have other friends who think it's closer to 6 a.m. One person said 3 a.m. But I think that person was at least 50.

I'd like to know what you think.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"Got Christ?" and Other Signs Christian Commercialism is Missing Creativity

The following is an email I sent to a friend of mine, Scott McClellan, who is the man at the very creative Collide Magazine. The original included the "warning", and since I want your feedback, too, I left it in there.

*** Warning: After reading the email below again, I realize that this may seem a little random. It kind of continues our conversation about music. Also, I want to start this dialogue with you because I feel like you have some good insight and an understanding I don't have. Let me know what your thoughts are over email or a later conversation. ***

Honesty time: What type of Christian commercialization has been good as or better than its mainstream version? I'm including all media, clothing, food, and whatever else you can think of.

From what I can see, I'll go ahead and give you one: Collide. Sojourners may be up there, but I feel like it is hit or miss with them. [Relevant has its moments.]

I bring this up, because it frustrates me greatly that commercial Christianity is about being a bad copy of society rather than being something fresh and new. I feel like the Church of America is no longer about being, but about showing. The problem is that since we aren't being something different, we can't show the world something different with our products. Where is our faith as expressed through creativity? Our faith should encourage us to shock the world with compassion, not shock the world with G-Beck-style hate-mongering. You and I both know a ton of creative people who are Christians. Many of mine don't want to do something "Christian" because it stifles them and labels them not as Christian but as sub-par artists.

I'll end with this story: Yesterday I ate at Kalachandji's, a veggie place inside a Buddhist temple. My friend blessed the meal. I joked that he was doing that to give us extra strength against the wily way of the temple/restaurant. He showed me a spot on the wall where someone before wrote in John 3:16. I asked if he did it. He said he didn't; he found it when he brought an agnostic friend of his to this restaurant. The two had been having discussions about church, and the friend expressed a lot of anger towards Christians and their ways. While eating lunch, the friend looked over at the wall, stopped eating, and said, "You see, this is why I'm not a Christian." It wasn't the words of the bible that disgusted him. But rather, the way the vandal had chosen to deliver them.

As Christians, God has given us the message. The way we are messing it up is in the way we are delivering it. If we are going to continue to deliver God's message through commercial goods and media, it must be done in a way that shows who God is. I don't think a t-shirt that says "Got Christ?" shows that.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Soul of Books, or Reading as a Way of Life

Part I: Falling Back Under a Stack

I'm seriously debating about getting one of the e-readers. I don't want an app that puts it on my phone or computer. I want something that is easy to read and compact. Phones and computers strain eyes because eyes weren't made to look straight at light; they were made to see light reflect of objects. That leaves the Kindle, nook, and Sony's/Borders' e-reader (whatever it's called).

I'm looking at these options because I realized that after law school and studying for the bar exam, I stopped reading. TV, Netflix, Wii, pretending to want to workout, and the heaviness of books have all fought on the side of Burnout over this last year. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde was the first sign that my joy of reading may still have some fight left in it, then Larry Burkett taught me about finances. Now I'm halfway through the overlong 3rd book of the Eragon/Inheritance series, Brisingr, I've started The Strategy-Focused Organization, and I'm looking forward to finishing Crazy Love. Now I'm like so many of those people who I always thought were big dorks, because I want reading to be a way of life for me and my family.

"A room without books is like a body without a soul."
- Cicero

Part II: Plastic or Paper?

I would argue that the best places on earth [inside from] nature are libraries and, even more so, used book stores. A great BBC series agrees with me: "Black Books."* It's the smell, the people, the cheap and cool books, and the knowledge that some juggernaut new-book store may take away their profit margin, but they will never take away their freedom [from copyright law]. It's because of stores like this that I will always buy books used when I can, use the library when I can't.

However, I have fallen for e-book readers. I love the ability to carry it everywhere and use it inconspicuously. I also love not having to strain my fingers to hold it upright when it is hardback and more than 700 pages (read "Brisingr" or "Harry Potter", etc.). Plus, I can get tons of books for free instead of borrowing them from friends and forgetting to give them back for months.

I've come to grips with the greatness of the plastic form of books, but many of my friends haven't. The fear is that they will destroy the souls of books. I find this argument to be lacking even if Cicero would agree. That's like saying the soul is not the soul without a body. I thought that's exactly what it is.

The soul of the book is in the story; it's in the magical world a few black blots of characters create when strung together. It's present whether paper or plastic. One only needs run his or her eyes across the lines and open the mind.

The souls of books are being destroyed, but it's not electronic versions of themselves. It's the shorter attention spans, it's reality TV, and it's an education system that is in shambles. That's where the war should be fought. Taking from Terminator Salvation, it may just be that the perfect weapon is half book, half electronic. Skynet is not e-readers.

Think about that as you decide where the soul of books lies and whether or not you will make reading a way of life.

* Where does the punctuation go when quoting media? Also, should TV shows be quoted or italicized?

Another Blog

I just decided to start another blog. After three that have been less than consistent, I figured I try one more time with one that has the potential to only impress my readers. "How's he going to do that?" you might ask. Clearly, there is only one way:

Keep expectations low and show an occasional flare of brilliance.

Pictures will occasionally appear. Stories about me or others will occasionally appear. Guest bloggers may occasionally write. Or, one can hope.

So here's to the kickoff of a new blog.