It's all a matter of perspective.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Geoffrey Norman writes on National Review Online about the year in sports scandal:

In basketball, it wasn’t drugs. Not this year, anyway. The NBA’s scandal involved gambling which, in big-time sports, can be lethal. It doesn’t take many players to fix a basketball game, as several point-shaving scandals in the college game have demonstrated. And even a casual follower of the game can appreciate how much a referee who is in the pockets of gamblers could influence the score and make sure a team comes in over, or under, the line. Well, it turns out the NBA had a ref who gambled and got in over his head. Ten years ago, that might have been fatal to the game. But this year, it didn’t seem like such a big deal. Perhaps because a ref can only fix the results of the games he actually officiates. So the corruption wasn’t systemic. Or maybe — and this seems more likely — the fans have simply become accustomed to a certain amount of scandal in sports. News that the New England Patriots were doing a little illegal spying on opposing teams seemed predictable and amusing. Of course they were, and wasn’t it just like Coach Bill Belichick to go for any edge, even one that eventually got him fined half-a-million dollars and cost his team a draft choice.

And that, in fact, might be the big sports story of 2007: the end, not of illusions, but of disillusionment. After all, in order to be disillusioned, you need illusions. The kid who pleaded, “Say it ain’t so, Joe,” to Shoeless Joe Jackson after the White Sox had fixed a World Series for the benefit of gamblers was honestly dismayed. He believed, quaintly, in the integrity of the game.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Tony Trischka, Steve Martin, Béla Fleck - The Crow

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christopher Hitchens destroys Mike Huckabee today in this piece on Speaking of Article VI of the constitution:

However, what Article VI does not do, and was never intended to do, is deny me the right to say, as loudly as I may choose, that I will on no account vote for a smirking hick like Mike Huckabee, who is an unusually stupid primate but who does not have the elementary intelligence to recognize the fact that this is what he is. My right to say and believe that is already guaranteed to me by the First Amendment. And the right of Huckabee to win the election and fill the White House with morons like himself is unaffected by my expression of an opinion.

Monday, December 17, 2007

NEA Says Teacher Pay Improving in Arkansas

The running joke in Arkansas whenever national rankings in education, wealth or other categories were released has always been "thank God for Mississippi." Arkansas often ranked at the bottom, one step above its Southern neighbor. But in the latest National Education Association rankings of teacher pay, Arkansas outranked all its regional neighbors and climbed four spots from 36th in 2004-05 to 32nd in 2005-06, the year used to compile the report on the 50 states and Washington D.C. The average Arkansas teacher salary was $42,768; the national average was $49,026.Alabama ranked 44th, Louisiana 45th, Mississippi 41st, Missouri 42nd, Oklahoma 48th, Tennessee 34th, and Texas 35th.

All of my life I have listened to Arkansans bitching about how underpaid our teachers are. Does this mean they will stop? An Arkansas teacher would have to move at least two states away to be paid more.
I work as a bar keep a couple of nights a week at a tiny neighborhood Italian restaurant. Last week one of the servers was at my bar inscribing "Merry Christmas" on the top of tickets that she was preparing to deliver to a table. Another server walked by, saw what she was writing, and became incredulous. "You can't write Merry Christmas! You might offend someone! What if they are Jewish? You have to write Happy Holidays." This even though the owner of the restaurant stands at the door greeting all guests with a hearty "Merry Christmas" this time of year. (And the waitress confessed that she had witnessed said table exchanging Christmas cards.)

I said to the two servers, "Let's do a little thought experiment, shall we? If you were to visit a kosher deli and the owner wished you a 'Happy Hanukkah' would you be offended, or even surprised?"

No, they confessed.

"And what kind of restaurant is this?" I asked.

"Italian," they answered.

"And where does the Pope live?"
For some reason, my sister and I have taken to texting each other random song lyrics throughout the day. The challenge is the make the other laugh out loud. My best message so far was this:

Dit dit duun, dow – ROW. Dit dit duun, dow – ROW, Dit dit duun, dow – ROW. Lit dit dit dit dit dit dun – TEQUILA!

And I held the lead for a long time, but Jenni went for the win the other day with this gem:

If dat duddy dida dun na na du wit dose METTY DABIS DYES.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

People have started to ask me lately if I were ever going to post again at this blog. I can only answer yes, but you never know when, how often, or if it is going to be worth reading.

Now that I know that people care, I will try to make more of an effort.

We will see . . .

Sunday, July 22, 2007

You Are Animal

A complete lunatic, you're operating on 100% animal instincts.
You thrive on uncontrolled energy, and you're downright scary.
But you sure can beat a good drum.
"Kill! Kill!"

Monday, July 09, 2007

This past weekend at the Little Rock Farmer's Market I found a fellow that had some Pennsylvania Morels for sale. I picked up $5 worth (About 3/4 pint basket - small morels) and cooked them for dinner tonight. This is what I came up with. It turned out real nice!

Morels with Butter and Cream over Pasta

  • Two servings of Dry angel hair pasta
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 egg
  • Panko Bread Crumbs
  • Heavy Cream
  • Butter
  • S&P

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Toss with olive oil, cover and set aside.

  1. Pat Morels dry with a paper towels and cut into uniform pieces.
  2. Dip pieces in egg wash, then panko and set aside on plate.
  3. Melt about four tblsp butter in a small sautee pan with a tsp of olive oil, when butter stops foaming, add Morels.
  4. Toss gently in butter until panko browns.
  5. Add enough cream to float the Morels and S&P to taste.
  6. Let it simmer for ten minutes or so until it becomes a sauce.

Serve over Pasta with freshly grated Parmesan.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

New Video!

I finally found time to cobble together enough free software to

1.) Rip the DVD that KATV gave us.
2.) Convert at least the first twenty minutes to DivX
3.) Edit out one of the watchable tunes.

I hope you enjoy. I have an hour of this stuff if I can just figure out how to unwrap the package.

If anyone out there is a whiz at video editing and wants to volunteer to edit this DVD down into a song per file for me, I would be glad to mail them a free DVD, and then, later, sing at their children's weddings.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

St. Andrew's Anglican
This past Saturday night was our regular Dinner for Eight meeting. This group is the last remaining vestige of our glorious old church, and contains some of our favorite people in the whole world. The group is so great, in fact, that it is now dinner for twelve. Because this group likes to stay out late and drink too much, Miss J and I asked my parents to watch the boys for us and take them to church the following morning. The boys love Country Baptist church, and Mom and Dad love showing them off.

That night at the dinner Miss J and I realized that since we were not going to have the boys we could go to church together anywhere we wanted to go. Of course, this being a group made up of all former members of the now defunct church, conversation inevitably turns to where we are all finding ourselves on Sunday mornings these days. As it turns out, a majority of the group was planning to go to St. Andrew's the next morning. I was already planning to visit an Episcopal congregation. St. Andrew's, being Anglican, was certainly close enough. My sister called Sunday morning and asked to tag along, we said sure.

This congregation has recently moved from a temporary space into a new building. This place is not yet finished. There was some siding missing from the outside, the parking lot was not totally paved, the landscaping was undone, and there were places inside where things were not painted yet. When this place is finished, it is going to be prettier than any church building I have ever been in. Lots or bright red and yellow, with dark wood trim and clear, rather than stained glass windows that allow a lot of natural light in. It was a really pretty place.

We were greeted at the door by a nice gentleman who showed us the way to the sanctuary. (We had unknowingly walked into the downstairs, back door.) Along the walk to the service we were accosted by two older women who were a bit over enthused and a little too friendly for me, but I am the nervous lonely type anyway. They were honestly glad to meet us and happy that we were there. That is nice. Upon entering the sanctuary, we were immediately greeted by the sight of our dear friends sitting right there near the back on the right. (This is where Otis had informed us that the cool people sit)

The rest of the crowd was very mixed. Black, white, other; young, old. I noticed that the people who were serving in the church, the laypeople, appeared to be completely normal. Like the sort of people you would know from work, not from church. I felt really comfortable among these people, like they were not judging me and did not feel like they were better than me. This plus the attendance of some of my closest friends made for a very relaxing morning.

The Service:
Once again they had a contemporary worship band. (Apparently they have a very traditional service at 9:00. I plan to attend that sometime soon.) A gentleman about my age with an acoustic guitar was leading. There was another guy playing acoustic and singing harmony, a chick singer, bass, drums, and an older fellow playing a mean Fender guitar. This band was superb, if a little mellow, and I thought they did an excellent job of adding contemporary music to a very liturgical service.

We did the responsive reading thing, we did the march the cross down the isle thing, we knelt, we stood, we sat, we did not grow bored, and we had plenty to reflect on. I particularly enjoyed the reading from the Old Testament. I remember enjoying it at the time, but I really enjoyed it later when my buddy Mike Page came over and started flipping out about it. Something about one of those olde prophet cats laying on top of a child to heal it.

Then the speaker came on. He did a real nice job, and was very entertaining. The substance of what he had to say was inspiring also. He talked about the funeral of a man he went to grade school with. He told how people went on and on at the funeral about what an amazing, generous, loving man he was. He confessed how the man drank too much, smoked, and worked long hours, but he still found time to make a difference. He loved the Lord and his neighbor.

After that was Holy Communion, High Church style. Now this made me a little nervous, because I had no idea what what going to happen, but I was pretty sure that I was going to have to walk down to the front of the auditorium. As it turns out, it was pretty neat, and it was no problem to follow those around me and see how they were doing it. An usher told our row when to stand up and when to go down front. We got in line at the end of the aisle, and another usher told us when there was a place available at the alter for us and where to kneel. One robed preacher dude walked by with the Holy Eucharist, and then one passed with the Blood of Jesus. The wafers were of the standard Catholic variety, the wine had alcohol in it and was very sweet and was passed down the row in a big earthenware goblet. Between each sip the cup bearer rotated and wiped the cup. If you were not comfortable with this, they had a centrally placed cup for dipping. Jenni quickly declared herself a dipper.

That was that, and we left. Mom and Dad had a beautiful Pork Roast waiting for us in Maumelle. Elapsed time: 95 Minutes.

Would I Go Back?:

Yeah, I am really having to remind myself that I am on a quest here. I would go back this Sunday if I did not have more churches to check out.

Monday, June 11, 2007

As a graduate of Bismarck High School, Bismarck, AR, let me tell you how proud this article makes me! My favorite part:
Education officials expressed most concern about Bismarck, which was projected to have an ending balance of negative $220,000 for the fiscal year that ends June 30th, 2008. An audit found multiple unauthorized payments, including an $18,000 contribution to a retirement plan for the district's former superintendent.
Remember that little tidbit as you pay your property taxes this year.

Friday, June 08, 2007

OK, before I forget about it, and before I go to another stop on my tour this Sunday, I thought I had better get down some thoughts about my visit last Sunday to First United Methodist, North Little Rock. Keep in mind that I went to the "Contemporary" service. This is the middle of the three Sunday morning services.

The church has several large buildings that take up almost all of the property, leaving little room for parking. Next door is an equally large Baptist church, so it makes for a foreboding presence when you drive up. Like an industrial park of 1980's church buildings. Although there were few parkings spaces, I did not have any problems finding one because I am the most punctual person that I know.

Inside it had the dark wood paneling/ big fancy light fixture/ stained glass thing that we are all used to. There were cushioned pews in three rows, with a couple or three dozen pews in each row. It had a large stage, but no pulpit. There was a place for the choir to sit on stage left, (choir is not "Contemporary" so the seats were empty) and a drum set balancing it out on stage right. I took a seat in the middle section, 2/3rds back, against the isle.

I should note that the sanctuary was all of the building that I saw. People kept talking about something called a Narthex. I have no idea what one of those looks like, so I may have seen it, may have not. I understand, thanks to Wikipedia, that the Narthex is at the end of the Nave. That did not help much.

Small. There were about 70 people there, which looked like none in an auditorium that could probably seat 400. There were more people my age than I expected, but this was the "Contemporary" service. I'm sure all the old folks were there at sunup to hear the choir and pipe organ. (Mmm, I love choirs and pipe organs sometimes. I think I will have to find me some of that action this week.) The children were in the back doing something else, so there were no kids in this service, except for a few pleasant, sleeping babies. In Country Church, the babies scream and coo, and the bigger kids run up and down the isles or color in books right next to you. That is fine, I guess, but it was awfully nice to hear what the people down front were saying.

The Service:
The "Contemporary" band consisted of a drummer, an electric bass, an acoustic guitar, a Fender guitar, and three chick singers. Everyone appeared to be really young except for the bass player and the middle chick, who took the lead. These two were 40ish I would guess. The order of service was very traditional: An opening song, then everyone was encouraged to shake hands with the people around them. 1UMCNLR seemed to take this ritual very seriously and the they were great at it. Everyone left the stage and went to shake hands. They took probably three or four full minutes. I suppose I was singled out as a stranger, because the Lady Pastor came and introduced herself to me fairly quickly. Everyone was extremely nice and welcoming. Next was prayer and announcements and offering.

It was during the announcements that I first embarrassed myself. (Which I am sure will happen at least once a week.) There was one person at the end of my pew. She suddenly motioned me down and passed me a red book. I opened it up and it appeared to be some sort of register, like at a funeral or a wedding. They don't have these at Country Church. I signed my name and put my approximate address, but then tried to pass it off to the people in front of me. As it turns out, there is one of these on every pew and they did not need it. Also, I thought it was a visitor thing like the cards they have at Country Church. Apparently everyone signs the 1UMCNLR register, members and visitors alike. I suppose it is sort of like taking roll.

After the announcements we sang three more songs. No one, that I could see, raised their hands or wiggled much, even though the lady up front encouraged us to if we liked. It was very nice and reverent and mellow. I enjoyed this part very much. This is when it first really felt nice to be in church again.

Finally the Lady Pastor got up and gave us the sermon. It was a very simple piece on money. Mr. Wesley encourages us to earn all we can, save all we can, and give all we can. I support that. Sounds like Mr. Wesley is a good old fashioned supply-sider like myself.

After the sermon we took communion Methodist-style which was new to me. Some nice people stood up front with a bowl full of what looked sort of like oyster crackers and a big ol' earthenware goblet of red stuff. We all lined up and took a cracker, then dipped it in the red stuff. I could not tell if it was wine or grape juice, because not enough got sucked up into my little oyster cracker to taste. Just to be safe, later on that evening I uncorked a little Blood of Christ to go with my evening meal. Can't be too sure these days.

After taking communion, some people went up front to the knee-padded alter and prayed - some people just went right back to their seat. To me, it felt right to go kneel and close my eyes, and thank the Lord for living in a place where I can go enjoy so many different styles of worshiping him. Also I thanked Jesus for forking over his body and blood like he did. Man, he really loves us. In the Bible, Jesus said, "This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me." In Country Church they take The Lord's Supper twice a year. We were taught that when Jesus said, "As oft as ye drink it" what he really meant was, "Don't do this too often, or it will not be as special as it could and should be." Kneeling there in that ornate sanctuary, with strangers to my right and left, I could not imagine eating the Body and Blood and it not being special; not setting you back a bit and making you think about how loved you are.

Next were a few more announcements and we all filed out the back. I was the first one to my car and headed for home. Elapsed Time= 56 minutes.

Would I go back?
You bet. I had a great time. It was not a perfect match for me, but it was sanctified and the people were perfectly lovely and I think the Holy Spirit was there in the room with us.

Next Sunday though I continue the journey. I am thinking maybe Episcopal.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I agree with this interpretation 100%

Monday, June 04, 2007

Why would I start posting to a blog that I have been ignoring for the past two and a half years? Because I finally have something to say, that's why. Also, blogs have become fashionable again. If there is one thing that is true about me, it is that I simply must be up on the latest trends. Everyone I know has a blog, therefore I had to come back. Three years ago it was just me, James Lileks, and Tony Pierce. But now my sweet wife has joined (I would say inspired, but I am biased) this new wave of bloggers that are really great. Check her blogroll for examples. Miss J herself has what I believe to be the best dang ol' blog I have ever laid my medulla oblongata upon. (Again, biased.) Not that I have any readers I can send her, but anyway . . .

But most importantly I have undertaken a project of sorts that Miss Amy H. Amy has suggested would make quality blog fodder. I have started a journey to experience all forms of Collective Christian Worship that one can bless themselves with in my little corner of the Bible Belt. I suppose I should give some background at this point. This is going to be painful. Warning: Honesty to follow. If you are a part of my life and that bothers you, skip ahead to the lighter stuff.

When I first started dating the beautiful Miss J twelve years ago, we were both students at Ouachita Baptist University. I had an extracurricular job cooking at a hotel restaurant. She worked on the weekends in Little Rock for a non-profit called The Shepherds Ranch (now part of this). Since she was working several days in a row, and it was an hour drive to Arkadelphia, and since she was driving a '74 Plymouth Volare, she started spending the night in the guest bed of her Aunt and Uncle.

At the time, they were involved in starting a new church. This was going to be a non-denominational, evangelical, sorta baptist, sorta charismatic, church of other-church castoffs. Miss J thought that sounded right up her alley. I was not so sure at first, being raised Country Baptist and all. But after a few visits I was hooked by the casual feel, contemporary music, open and honest atmosphere, and absence of a hyper-religious, holier-than-thou, hypocritical atmosphere that engulfed most of the churches that I had been involved with. They named the new church Celebration Christian Fellowship, and when they moved into a permanent structure Miss J and I were the first people to be married there. We moved to Little Rock and were quickly integrated into the leadership of this fledgling congregation.

For the next eight years and seven months we were immersed in this vibrant community. This was not the kind of church that has services twice on Sunday and some sort of event every night of the week. It was not a full time job, but we were intimately involved in pretty much every ministry that the church undertook. I played in the Band and cleaned the sanctuary and helped remodel the building when it needed it. Miss J was the first employee of the church besides Uncle Pastor and started the Children's Ministry. She was an important leader in the Women's Ministry and did the announcements on Sunday mornings and was an always at the information booth out front when someone needed something.

This church was not perfect, but it did a lot of things right. We had small groups that met in people's houses to worship and pray and commune. We had a wonderful Christmas service where Grandfather Pastor would tell the Christmas story and everyone would be overwhelmed by the blessing. We had worship times where the lights were down, and the music was being led by something that the people in the band did not understand, and you felt like you might fly right up to heaven. When someone would move away, on their last Sunday they would be called down front where all of the people who loved them would form a scrum around them and Jon Shirley would take the Holy Spirit out of his bluejeans pocket and release it into the room and everyone would close their eyes and cry and pray for these people that meant so much to them. On Memorial Day the whole church would go out to Steve Leopard's house on the lake and eat BBQ and potato salad (Brian Roach style) and play volleyball. At the end of the summer we went out to Ferncliff and swam and paddled and sumo wrestled and baptized and cried and prayed some more and ate catfish.

Well to make a long story short, and to surely offend people who couldn't give a shit about what I have to say, and to perhaps even libel myself and get sued for damages, let me just say that Uncle Pastor lost interest in both uncle-ing and pastoring, but for reasons that I will dare not speculate about in public, decided that he would rather see this church fit into the space that he had time for rather than allow someone else to take the lead and provide what it needed to thrive.

The first step in this transformation was the decision that the church should have no organized activity whatsoever except for Sunday morning worship, and this was best when organized as little as possible. We had videos instead of sermons, question and answer time instead of sermons, Sundays with only music, and the rehash of a sermon we had heard a hundred times. When it finally degraded to the point where He decided he would rather continue as pastor of the church without a salary and without a building while doing another career full time than he would step away and let someone else lead this thirsty group of family, friends, and companions, Miss J and I decided that we had to move on. It was far too painful to watch.

So we left. (We weren't the only ones. Celebration still meets on occasion, with about two percent of its peak numbers.) January 1st, 2006 was our first Sunday at a new church. We have been attending Fellowship North mostly, New Life Conway some, and occasionally Grace Missionary Baptist (The church my dad pastors.) We have enjoyed all of these for various reasons, and have felt the spirit from time to time for sure. But, nothing has been like it was, and will likely never be.

Once I realized this, I became pretty depressed about my spiritual future. Miss J and the kids were fairly happy attending Fellowship North, and they had made friends. I, however am antisocial and have mental problems. Making friends takes a long time and a lot of casual contact for me. Also, I realized that I know almost nothing about how most people worship. I had only attended three churches in my life; The church I grew up in - a small country baptist church pastored by my dad; Celebration; and now FSN. When I mentioned this to Miss J, she made a generous and genius proposition. She and the kids will go to FSN when they feel like going to church, and I will be allowed to attend a different church every Sunday if I like, until I feel that I have been educated My mind should be opened to all of the ways that people in my home town worship the Lord.

I do not plan to go to any Baptist churches, I did that for the first twenty years of my life. I do not plan to go to any Church of Christ, because they are far to much of a strict constructionist in their interpretation for me (and do not allow Fender Guitars on stage.) I do not plan to go to any AOG or Pentecostal or anything too charismatic, because it kinda frightens me a little bit when people loose it like that. Remember the part about me being antisocial and having mental problems?

Where do I plan to go? Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox, Catholic, and whatever else strikes my fancy along the way. Last Sunday I went to First United Methodist, North Little Rock, and I attended the "Contemporary Service." Hopefully I will have time to write about that before I make my next sneak visit next Sunday. If you are interested, check back and I will try to post about each denomination as I visit them. I will talk about what was different from my previous worship experiences, what I liked, how I was moved during the services, how I embarrassed myself, and how big my pompadour is each week.

Feel free to comment. Please suggest places for me to visit. You are also welcome to tell me that I am theologically screwed and riding in an aisle seat on the fast track to Hades. I welcome all input.