Friday, December 21, 2007

What's that?


Okay. So is it a cross or a bookshelf? And what about the three Christmas balls on the shelf? Is that supposed to be the Trinity? Or is it just three Christmas balls on a shelf? And what about the lights on the tree? If you connect them do they spell out "repent"?

I don't think so.

But nothing in political ads is done by accident. The men in the little dark rooms plan everything we see, so if the cross shaped bookshelf was not intentional, it was surely opportunistic. The sad thing is that the bookshelf will get more attention that what Mike Huckabee has to say. I don't think the men in dark rooms wanted that to happen.

A shot across the bow ....

I just got the results of my biennial physical bloodwork. It was not good news. My cholesterol is up (203) with the bad stuff - the LDL - up to 136. Apparently the best is for this level to be below 100. The last time I was tested - two years ago - it was 114. So no more high-fat foods. Love the (yuk) veggies.

That shouldn't surprise me. I have been eating like a pig. And my weight has shown it. Since 2004 I have regained 50 of the 80 pounds I lost on WeightWatchers. I don't know who I think I'm fooling. I haven't been sticking to the program, so why should I expect it to work.

My doctor said my weight is the big problem. No prostate trouble, no high blood pressure (thank God that was normal!) and my blood tells the whole story.

I was thinking this morning that what I have been doing is not working - the lies I have been telling myself. The extra calories add up and there's no way around it.

So if I want to live, I have to change. No fun. Especially right before the family Christmas gathering. But what has to be done has to be done.

Pray for me. Food is one thing that I have struggled to control my whole life. Now the battle is serious.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It's that time of year ....

to take a look back at what has happened and see where you might be going. My year has been an eventful one; I have probably earned more air miles this year than I had in my previous 44 years on the planet.

My first trip was to the Super Bowl in Miami, Florida in February. That's where Tony Dungy and the Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears in a pouring rain.Photobucket Billy Joel did the National Anthem and Prince did the halftime show. I got soaked, but it was a good game. Not to mention it was about 70 degrees there while it was around 30 degrees in DC. Not bad work if you can get it.

Shortly thereafter, Cornelia and I went to the Bahamas for a much-needed warmth break. She gets SAD really bad if we stay in the cold, dark, wetness of DC for too long. Frankly if we didn't work here, we would probably live somewhere warmer.

In July, I went to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the Pan American Games. It was one of the longest flights I have ever taken, and apart from some great music and a chance to see Rio's Christ the Redeemer Statue, I was frustrated by not being able to do my job. Without the rights, I couldn't take any recording equipment into the venues, so I couldn't bring back any tape of the athletes I was interviewing actually doing what they do. But we will try to work around it somehow.

My bitching was put in perspective when nearly 200 people died in a plane crash in Sao Paulo while I was there. They slid off the runway at Congonas Airport in a driving rain storm and no one survived. It made getting home that much more special.

Shortly after the Rio trip I went to Japan to cover the World Athletics Championships. That was the trip I actually wanted to take. The Rio trip I was roped into because my boss wanted someone to go. But Japan was somewhere I wanted to see. It was like being dropped on another planet. The atmosphere and the attitudes were so different from home. And it was another God-awful long flight both going and coming.

In October, Cornelia and I did something I have wanted to do for a long time - we went to Paris. That was one trip that I would do again in a heartbeat. The other places I have been this year? Not so much.

The highlight of the year has been twofold - finding a new church and graduating from Regent University. Both are things that are a relief and a joy. But sometimes I wonder what to do now?

God is not finished with me yet. The elections are coming up next year, and I frankly don't know who to vote for. Some of my church friends say Mike Huckabee, but of course they also said Sam Brownback, who dropped out of the race. But I am not really enthusiastic about any of them.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

We gather together ...

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever(Ps. 107:1). What are you thankful for? It's Thanksgiving, and it might seem trite or smarmy to some to think of what we are thankful for, but here's a few things I am grateful to God for:

1. My wife. I never dreamed that I would be married to someone who is so much fun to be with and yet can tolerate me at my worst. Even when we fight - and we do sometimes - we make up. And we love one another. I am amazed that such a wonderful woman would marry me, and would understand the darkness that sometimes plagues me.

2. We have found a new church. After attending one fellowship for several years, we left that church about 18 months ago. From there we went to an Assemblies of God church for about a year, but never seemed to fit in. But now we have found a fellowship where we seem to fit. It has the kind of worship we long for and the preaching is fantastic - which is rare. Most of the time you have to choose one or the other - either good worship or good preaching, but seldom both.

3. We have been reasonalby healthy this year. Cornelia (my wife) still has some physical struggles because of the rigors of her job, but she has been able to keep working.

4. I got my degree from Regent University. Master of Arts in Pratical theology. I still don't feel like I know anything. If anything I learned how much I don't know. But that's good. That way I can't cop an attitude about how much I know.

5. Cornelia and I got to go to both the Bahamas and Paris this year. The Bahama trip was to get warm and the Paris trip was a dream come true. And we didn't break the bank on either one and still had a good time.

6. I still have a job. The efforts of the Bush Administration to eliminate my job notwithstanding, I still have an income.

7. My bass teacher Anthony Wellington. This dude has talent to spare and yet is a great teacher. Again that's rare. Many times players are either great players or great teachers. Anthony is both. Make it funky.

8. I am getting better at piano. I don't always like it that my teacher makes me play recitals, but hey, it's the only thing that motivates me to practice, so that's a good thing.

9. I got to travel a lot this year - to the Super Bowl in Miami, to the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (where I got to hear some really GREAT music) and to Osaka, Japan. I wasn't all that enthusiastic about the long plane rides, but I got to each of these assignments - and most of all got home - without incident.

10. The things we take for granted - the car works, the house is in pretty good shape, no fires, tornadoes or hurricanes wreaking havoc on life, and things are prosperous. Not rich, but not poor. Sometimes that's hard to remember in the stress of everyday life, but there are no guarantees in life. Thanks be to God for the simple things - food, clothes, shelter, transportation, warmth. Not to mention laughter, intellectual stimulation, friends, learning, and growth.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Render unto Caesar ....

that which is Casear's. And render unto God that which is God's. Jesus said that about paying taxes. Jesus and taxes have been in the news this week as Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley asked several ministries to account for how they spent their money. The ministries involved include some of the so-called "prosperity gospel" teachers - Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar among them.

Let me preface this post with two facts:

1) I serve on the board of a non-profit ministry; and

2) I work for the Federal Government, so taxes pay my salary.

A friend of mine and I had a back and forth over this. His basic premise is that the State cannot tell the church what to do, i.e., the state cannot be all up in the church's work because (a) it has not been given that authority and (b) tax exemption implies sovereignty over someone and the church is supposed to be subject to God only.

Okay, I'll give him that. I don't want the government in all my business either, and I don't agree with everything that Uncle Sam spends my tax money on. But part of the exemption granted under 501c3 status is that non-profit organizations make a full disclosure of their finances (a form 990) if asked. But that's where the rub comes in with Bros Copeland, Dollar and others. They are considered churches, and are not required to file a 990.

Senator Grassley has given the ministries until December 6th to respond.

Constitutional issues aside, I must admit being surprised by all the uproar. If the ministries have done nothing to violate the Federal tax code, they have nothing to fear. They can open the books and say - here it is, here is what we received, what we spent, how we spent it and what we have left.

If there has been honesty, then they will be found to be honest. If they have tried to sidestp the law and keep their exempt status, they should be afraid. Why? Because the government we have is given to us by God (See Rom 13:6,7). I might not like it, I might disagree with its policies, but in the United States the way to express my grievance is most appropriately in the voting booth.

No one likes an audit; I wouldn't like one either. It makes you look dishonest even if you haven't been because otherwise why would Uncle Sam be poking his nose in your business?

But in the age of Enron and other corporations bilking their investors out of billions of dollars, keeping everything above board is not only necessary for financial safety, but to preserve the integrity of all ministry.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I can't believe these people

I heard this story yesterday on the radio, and I shuddered to believe it. But it's true. The God Hates Fags people in Topeka, Kansas are at it again. But this time, they lost. To the tune of nearly 11 million dollars.

Let me say two things at the outset:

1. I am a Bible-believing Christian and a graduate of a conservative Christian school;

2. I have a gay family member.

Now that those two things are clear, let's rap. I don't believe that "God Hates Fags." I do believe that God hates sin. But homosexuality is just one of a LOOOOOOOOONNNNNNNNNNNGGGG list of sins the Apostle Paul lists in at least three of this epistles (Romans, Corinthians, Galatians).

But he also mentions envy, malice, anger, slander, gossip, hatred, clamour, evil speaking, greed, pride and several others. Some people want to say one sin is worse than others (they appeal to Paul's reference that sexual sin is a sin against one's own body) but the thing about sin is ALL of it is deadly.

It's like having a little cancer. Or being a little bit pregnant.

And the God whom these protestors allege hates fags is the same God who was bleeding and dying on a cross in Jerusalem.

I find it ironic that these protests were at the funeral of a U.S. Marine and the lawsuit was filed by the Marine's father. A couple of Jesus' miracles were at funerals (Jairus's daughter and the widow of Nain - oh and there was that thing with Lazarus, too). And when he started his ministry, Jesus read the passage from Isaiah that reads:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

I think that says it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Au Revoir, Forgettaboutit

So long, Karen Hughes. The Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy is the latest Bushista to skip ship. Ms. Hughes - whose tenure at State as a communications guru has been criticized as an abysmal failure - gave all of us some Halloween candy by kissing her job goodbye.

I don't know how much she was paid; I know she once worked as a reporter, but that was long ago. But the benefits for the U.S. image overseas - like much of the Bush Administrations efforts to keep people from blowing up Americans after 9-11 - didn't prove to be much. As a matter of fact, perceptions of the United States overseas dropped during her tenure.

Like many who have fled the sinking ship, Ms. Hughes is "returning to the private sector," but whether she will be completely out of the inner circle at 1600 remains to be seen.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

That's me in the corner ....

I just watched Mitt Romney's interview - or at least a 10-minute portion of it - on CBS's Face the Nation. The focus of it is Romney's Mormon faith and what role it plays in his life as a political candidate. Okay I get that. The man's running for president. But my impression of him was that he is obfuscating.

Several times in the interview he uses a contrast between his faith and his values. He says things like people might be concerned about his faith, but when they look at his values they would agree with him.

As the interview continued, I got the idea that Romney is using the word "values" in the sense of "what is important to me," i.e. don't steal, don't cheat, be honest in business, deal evenly with people, etc. But the word "faith" is reserved for his belief about the nature of the universe, is there a God and how to relate to Him.

The question that came to mind is "when did faith and values become different things?" Should not our faith inform - and if I can use the word - dictate our values? Or is faith something that is reserved for Sundays or Saturdays or Fridays, but the rest of the week we live by "values."

The problem with that kind of thinking - in my opinion - is that it separates faith from the everyday. Jesus taught that the two greatest commandments were to love God with everything (heart, mind, soul, strength) and to love our neighbors as ourselves. The majority of His teaching dealt with everyday issues - things we would call "value judgments" - not with just how to know God or relate to him. Jesus even went so far as to say that if we don't forgive others their trespasses, God will not forgive US!

Mitt Romney gives a good speech. He looks a little like Max Headroom, but he and his family paint a pretty picture. But I am not really comfortable with any candidate making the dichotomy between faith and life. All of life is a work of faith, or none of it is. Either we believe or we don't.

It almost reminds me of someone who says they are "trying to quit smoking" while they have a cigarette dangling from their mouth. A person either smokes or they don't; decide which you are and BE that.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Baseball, blah blah blah

Now is the time when baseball actually means something. The only problem is, two of the four teams are boring, boring, boring.

The Arizona Diamondbacks play the Colorado Rockies in an NLCS that's about as interesting as watching the balls at Coors field's humidor grow fat. (They put the baseballs in a humidor; it counteracts the really dry weather there that gave the Rockies' home field the reputation as a hitter's ballpark).

The other series between Boston and Cleveland promises to be at least a little exciting. But since most of the people on the East Coast don't get to see the Rockies or the Diamondbacks play on a regular basis, the NLCS promises to be a low-rated affair. That and the fact that it's on TBS, instead of ESPN or Fox. ESPN is running college football - Florida State against Wake Forest!

But it's time for football anyway. The Baseball bobbleheads have milked as much money out of us as can reasonable be expected. Maybe they can have a really boring World Series - like Cleveland and Colorado. Anyone for re-runs of The Bionic Woman online?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Who do YOU say ....

How do you perceive God? Some don't believe He is there; I know better than that, having experienced a relationship with Him.

But what is He like? Is He angry? Is He loving? Is He gentle or stern? Does He feel things the way we do or is He above feeling?

And how do we relate to Him?

The Bible says to approach his throne of GRACE to find mercy and grace to help in time of need. Jesus testified that God so loved the world - the who lot of us - that He sacrificed His only Son to save us. But sometimes I struggle to believe that He loves me, even though I have experienced times of love and closeness with Him.

I'd be interested to read your answers.

Friday, September 07, 2007

No, you still can't call me

I learned through watching the news this morning that the national "Do Not Call Registry" - remember that thing that you put your number on so telemarketers will not call you at all hours of the day - is about to purge its rolls.

Actually the first people to register when this thing was founded will have their protection expire beginning next year.

So unless you want irritating "can I speak to so-and-so" calls during dinner again, go to http://www.donotcall.gov and register your number - again.

Apparently the justification for the numbers expiring is that they want to rid the registry of people who change their phone numbers or move. But I still have the same number - and no, you can't call me.

So get your fingers to www.donotcall.gov and register again. Maybe this time it will last longer than five years, but I don't think so. On the e-mail that you get when you confirm that your registration, the e-mail says "your registration will last until 2012."

Friday, August 31, 2007

A decade in a minute

Diana, Princess Of Wales It's been 10 years since Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris. That was quick!

What has happened in that time?

George W. Bush has been elected President - twice

Bill Clinton, Bush's predecessor, faced impeachment for lying to Congress, but got off with an apology. Now he's on the verge of being back in the White House - as the first man!

The World Trade Center was destroyed. The man responsible for ordering the attack - Osama Bin Laden - is alive and dying somewhere in the mountains of either Afghanistan or Pakistan - at least that's what the experts say.

We have gone to war in Iraq - again. This time it was no easy victory; this time we are stuck in a quagmire that is draining our treasury and has cost more than 3500 American lives so far.

On a personal note, I have gotten married to the most wonderful woman in the world. We will celebrate our eighth anniversary next month.

I still work at VOA.

I have gotten a Masters Degree in Practical Theology from Regent University.

I still play music, but not in church anymore. Not for a while; too much foolishness and sloppiness for my tastes.

I have been traveling the world a lot - to Greece, to Bermuda, to Canada, to the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas, to Belize, to the Netherlands Antilles, to Brazil, Japan, and Mexico.

Cornelia - my wife - and I have changed churches twice. Still looking for that "home."

I moved from a townhouse to a single family home. From no yard to a third of an acre - and have learned how to plant things and make them grow.

And the gray in my hair has increased.

The 10 years went by in a blink. Now I understand what people mean when they say that life is a handbreadth or a whisper. I know that sounds old, but man the time went by like nothing. It pays to live every day to the fullest.

Lord help us to live the kind of lives we will wish we had lived when it comes out time to die.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Anger Management

Games at Miniclip.com - RiflemanRifleman

The scene is World War II. Help to win the war with individual battles.

Play this free game now!!
This little game is a great way to waste a few hours if you like shoot-em-up games. It's a little like the one I once saw on the Old West, but this one has several levels and the zoom feature on the sniper scope is pretty cool. It also lets you kill the bad guys and blow up their stuff. But be forewarned: You could get killed and it helps to learn how to duck. Try it if you have a few minutes to waste. But don't let the boss see you doing it - 'cuz it's like video game crack - once you try it, you just want more.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Osaka Madness

When I got back to the office today from my trip to Brazil, there was a form on my desk with the words "get stickers,” scrawled across it. It was from my boss.

Apparently - as is usually the case, as was the case in Rio - in order to report on the World Athletics Championships in Osaka, Japan, next month, I need to get a sticker for my equipment. That's fine. The only thing is the deadline for applying for radio frequencies was JANUARY of this year. That doesn't really have anything to do with the job I do, because I don't plan on broadcasting anything live. I was planning on being in the mixed zone where the athletes come off the track, record a few quotes, write the story and feed it back to Washington. It's a basic report.

But the Olympic-type guys have figured out that they can make money by making everyone have a sticker on their stuff or they won't be allowed to take it into the stadium. Which means I could fly clear across the world, go to the stadium get in, but would have to leave my equipment back at my hotel room.

I likened it to being invited to the picnic, but not being allowed to eat. But I e-mailed the Osaka 2007 people because what they are restricting is not what we want to do. We just want to be able to get some quotes from the athletes, and insert them in reports. I hope they understand that.

The last one of these that I covered was in 2001, just a month before 9-11. I haven't been to one since - there was one if Paris in 2003 and one in Helsinki, Finland in 2005. But the sense I get from talking to people is that the Japanese are sticklers for abiding by the rules, and it even says that unauthorized equipment and the accreditation of the user will be "confiscated."

I checked their website, and the last deadline for applying for radio frequency - everything from a wireless laptop to a cell phone - was June 4th. There aren't any more. But since that doesn't really have anything to do with what I am doing, maybe there is another set of rules by which to abide. We'll see. Otherwise, its a long trip for nothing. I hope that isn't the case. This is the trip I wanted to take. Brazil was the one I had to take.

More later.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

At what price?

I got to play real reporter today. Unfortunately when I get to do that kind of thing, it usually involves stuff blowing up, burning, collapsing or crumbling and people are usually dead.

That was the case today, in the aftermath of Brazil's worst air disaster in Sao Paolo in which as many as 195 to 200 people died. The plan slammed into a gas station and a building after sliding off a rain-slicked runway in Sao Paolo. The runway, which some pilots had called "the aircraft carrier" because of its short length, had been resurfaced, but the grooves had not been carved into it to drain the water.

The accident was all over the news and Brazilian TV even read the names of the passengers on the list. They showed the grieving and shell-shocked relatives at the airport, which had been closed to jets like the A-320 that crashed because it was considered unsafe.

Unfortunately, an appeals court had overturned the original injunction because it was thought the economic impact on Brazil would be too high. In other words, money was more important that people's lives.

So those people paid the price for the desire for economic prosperity.

Brazil's president declared three days of mourning and Brazilian athletes are wearing black armbands to show solidarity with the families of those killed. They are also observing a minute of silence before each event.

Maybe building a better airport would be a better way to honor the memory of those killed. I don't know. But I do know that grief looks the same in any language. Even though I could not understand what was being said on Brazilian TV, I knew what was meant - this is a horrible tragedy. Unfortunately since the runway – which drops off at the end like an aircraft carrier – cannot be lengthened because there are houses – HOUSES – at both ends of it.

The crash is the worst air disaster in Brazil’s history. Last September 154 people where killed when a Gol airlines 737 collided with a private jet and crashed in the Amazon area. Brazil has notorious battles with its air traffic controllers – including an antiquated system where controllers have to use paper strips to keep track of airplanes.

One person outside Sao Paolo’s main morgue said that it was not surprising. “This is Brazil,” he said. “There’s blame to go all around, but no one is going to take responsibility in the end.”

Sounds so American, doesn't it?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Big Power in a little Package

Natalie Woolfolk of the USA Weightlifting team I got to interview Natalie Woolfolk of the US Weightlifting team today at the Pan American Games.

She is 5'3' and 135 and it's all a bundle of energy. She won a bronze medal in the women's 63 kilogram class with a total of 213 kilograms (that's almost 470 pounds).

She was a great interview. She is small and perky and laughs readily. She likes to talk about life - not just about sport. She loves James Brown's music - which makes her a champion in my book. Before her bronze medal effort she was listening to "Get Up Offa That Thang" which she said pumped her up.

Natalie is the daughter of the strength and conditioning coach at the U.S. Naval Academy - Kirk Woolfolk. She has improved so much in the past few years that her dad says he won't lift with her any more.

She also loves to cook and hopes to open a bed a breakfast one day. We started comparing lasagna recipes - "do you use dry noodles or wet?" (she uses a combo noodle that's premoistened). "Do you start with peppers and onions in olive oil?" (she doesn't she uses onions and mushrooms). "Do you like it cold the next day?" (she does - but hey doesn't everyone?).

I was so charmed by this young woman - until I looked at her legs. This woman has the legs of a linebacker - I mean Brian Urlacher legs - which is where she gets her power from. That's the deceptive thing about her sport, too. People think that you have to be huge to be a weight lifter - like Vasiliy Alexiev of the former Soviet Union. But this is not so.

Natalie - like Tara Knott - is petite, and if you saw her in street clothes, you would not think she has the kind of power she has. But sitting about three feet from her talking about her sport, I could see how strong she is. She started in gymnastics and trained with weights in her garage once a growth spurt kept her off the balance beam. But it has paid off in many ways.

This girl plays for keeps. Her boyfriend is also a weight lifter - super heavyweight Casey Burgener. She used to work at the Home Depot, but now trains so much that she has no time for work. She also started a cooking club at the US Olympic training facility in Colorado Springs.

Natalie almost got teary when she talked about how much weight lifting has meant to her.

“I love weight lifting,” she said. “But I also enjoy – I have met my boyfriend through this. I have met my very, very best friends through weight lifting. It is very dear to me the opportunities that I have and the people I get to meet.”

In journalism school they teach you not to get too close to the story – to maintain a distance. But after talking to Natalie and getting to know her story, I couldn’t help hoping that I see her again next year in Beijing.

Monday, July 16, 2007

What a racket!

I was privileged to get an interview with several members of the USA badminton team and their coach today at the Main Press Center.

Howard Bach and Bob Malaythong are the top US men’s doubles team. They are the guys featured in the ad with Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox.

Howard said he didn’t even know who these guys were when they started the shoot, but then he was like “wow, those are some really big dudes.” But the opportunity was great for badminton.

Apparently – according to Howard, Brian Urlacher is a badminton freak. He even plays it in the Bears’ locker room.

“He told me has has a couple of sports they mess around with in the locker room,” Bach said. “So you see a lot of big, tough Chicago Bears football players in the locker room, and they were kind of hitting the birdie – playing badminton in the locker room, so that was pretty neat.”

Turns out Howard Bach also speaks Chinese. He was born in Vietnam and his parents emigrated to San Francisco. His father was the one with the passion for badminton, and kind of did the Broadway mother thing – passed on his dream to his son. Badminton is huge where these guys are concerned.

Bob is from Laos, but his parents emigrated to California as well. He learned the sport from his uncle. He’s also the one who gets the shuttlecock stuck in his leg in the vitamin water commercial.

I also interviewed Eric Go, who was born in the Philippines and plays singles. He was cool – much more rock star like than like a jock. He was more laid back and not so much “all about the sport,” even though he moved to Colorado Springs when he was just 14 to train.

I also interviewed Eva Lee and May Mangkalakiri of the women’s team. Eva was bron in Hong Kong but May was born here. They have two chances to make the Olympics – both in women’s doubles and in mixed doubles – Eva is Howard Bach’s partner and May teams with Bob Malaythong.

The neatest thing was when I talked to the USA Badminton Coach, Cai Zi Min. He was struggling to speak English but when I asked him to answer the questions in Chinese, he smiled a big smile and seemed relieved.

All of this will probably play pretty well with VOA’s language services. Indonesian, Thai, Laotian, Vietnamese, Chinese can all make use of theseinterviews. So that’s a big coup for your erstwhile reporter.

It was rainy here today and that kind of put a damper on things. But getting the interviews was great. I hope to do the same with weightlifting and judo tomorrow. If I can get fencing or shooting before I leave, that will be cake.

Three more days of work and I’m leaving. I’ll be glad to be home.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Rio Day seven

Sunset Sunday July 15 Rio de Janeiro Brazil.

I Shot this photo before going to watch badminton at the Pan American Games. Badminton at this level is not for the back yard any more.

I did watch a couple of matches, one of which was over quickly. Turns out the whole USA Badminton team was on my flight coming down here. I watched Eric Go play some Brazilian guy.

The interviews did not pan out. The players went back to the Pan American Village, and they didn't come to the court to watch the night matches.

So I had to reschedule until tomorrow. Two of the players - Howard Bach and Bob Malaythong - are featured in the Vitamin Water ad with Brian Uhrlacher of the Chicago Bears and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox.

You can check it out here. The guys playing the "Chinese team" are actually Howard and Bob. Howard is from Vietnam and Bob is from Laos. Bob is the one who gets the shuttlecock caught in his leg.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

No pay, no play

It's one of the elements of my job that I go to big events that people like to watch on TV. The problem with that is that there is ususally a large TV network that has paid lots of money to the what is called "rights holding broadcaster" for these things.

Like the Pan Am Games in Rio.

The host broadcaster here is a group called International Sports Broadcasting. They own this place as far as TV rights are concerned. And if you don't pay for the rights, you get what is called an "ENR" credential - Electronic Non-Rights holder. As one of this breed of journalist you can do nothing at Games like these except be a spectator or try to work your way around the restrictions to get what you need. It is frustrating for someone who reports for a living.

Part of my job is interviewing people and preparing audio reports for radio broadcast and Internet. But without being able to take my recorder and microphone into the venue, which I can't here, then all I can do is talk to the athletes and write notes like a newspaper reporter. It's still reporting, but the nature of broadcasting is that people don't want to hear the reporter talk, they want to hear the prinicpals, the people involved.

But without the rights, I can't deliver that product. My boss told me to act like my recorder was a personal music player or to say I had come from somewhere else and had no place to put the recorder. There's only one problem - THAT'S A LIE.

And if I did that, I am in effect stealing from the hsot broadcaster and defrauding the people who gave me the credential. It reminds me of something that someone once said when his boss told him to say he was not there when someone called -- "if I can lie for you, I can lie to you." His boss was pissed, but he later learned to trust this guy because of his integrity. I would rather have integrity than an interview.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

God is good - even better than you think

Today I was wondering if I would get the last video I needed for my television piece for the Pan American Games. There was a rumor that the head of the Organizing Committee – Carlos Arthur Nuzman - was going to be in the Main Press Center today. I called all the contacts I could muster last night trying to find out. But it was not confirmed.

Then not only did Nuzman show up, but also IOC president Jacques Rogge, Mario Vasquez Rana the head of PASO the Pan American Sports Organization and three other big wigs.
So not only did I get the people I needed, I got them all at once! Thanks be to God for his wonderful gift.

I also sent my video to Washington, via FTP which took nearly two hours. My editor blew out of the office at 2:00, and the TV intern who was working on the project has FRIDAY OFF!!!! But I can be satisfied that I have done my part. I have shot what I was here to shoot, and I have edited it as much as I could in the field. It isn’t ESPN, but it's what I get paid to do. So that's good.

Now the script needs editing and the package is in the hands of others. We'll see what they do with it.

Rainy Rio

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Here's a photo I shot of Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this morning. Thank God I went there yesterday when it was clear. If I hadn't I would not have gotten any video or photos of the city.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rio Ranger

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Today I was the galloping photographer in Rio. The only way I could get to the sites I needed to video was to take a car, so I hired one. The driver was Local and charged me R$200 which works out to about $100. I also tipped him R$20, which was another 10, and I bought lunch.

But this driver, a Copacabana native named Andre Gadelha, knew how to get everywhere. He knew what roads to take, how to navigate Rio’s unbelievable traffic, and he also schlepped my gear, which was an added plus because that stuff is heavy. We first went to Sugarloaf Mountain, a huge granite cone in the middle of the harbor.

The price as $R35, about $18, and that pays for the trip up and back. It was mostly clear this morning, though there was a little smoke hanging over the city. The wind was picking up and I noticed some clouds forming over the mountains. I would become more intimately acquainted with those clouds later one. The cable car ride was smooth and easy, but the wind did make it swing a little.

There was a delay – with one group hanging in midair – I am assuming it was because of the weather. In the winter in Rio, the winds can howl and the rains come from the center of South America. It’s not cold – I’d guess it was in the 70s – but it sure does knock you around on top of a mountain.

From Sugar Loaf we went to Maracana Stadium, which we couldn’t get into because it is the site of the opening ceremonies. I could have gotten in with my credential, but I could not have taken the camera in because my agency did not buy the rights. But I did get some useful video there.

From Maracana we went to the site of Carnaval, which is basically a huge party with lots of nearly naked people. It’s Rio’s version of Mardi Gras, and they have some of the costumes at the Museum of Carnaval.

From the Museum we went to lunch at another Churrascaria called the Palace and they kept brining the food. After lunch we went to the Christo Redemptor statue in Corcovado. We drove up the cobble stone streets then had to take a van to the top. When we got there, the clouds literally shrouded the statue. That’s a risk in winter in Rio – it gets cloudy and it rains.

But I was there to video that statue, so we stood there in the clouds waiting for a break. Thank God it came. The clouds parted a couple of times just long enough for me to get some video and photos. Then the statue was Christo Obscura.

There was this one guy praying at the base of the statue. He looked like what we in the States would call a homeless person, and he was kneeling at the base of the statue the whole time we were there.

He made me think of the Gadarene demoniac in Mark – my guide Andre even looked at him and then whispered “crazy, huh?” But this guy was on his knees in the clouds, in the cold, praying. I felt like walking up to him and saying “He has heard your cry, be at peace.” I didn’t, because I wasn’t sure of the impression and because I do not speak Portuguese.

I wonder about impulses like that sometimes. Is that God prompting me to act? It certainly is in keeping with God’s character to deliver someone, to restore their minds, to answer their prayers. But I didn’t do it. I kept on video taping and then Andre took me back to my hotel.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Flyin down to Rio

This is a record of my trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the Pan American Games.
Me in the Press Cener in Rio
July 8 2007

Dulles International Airport
C Gates
7:25 pm.


I made it through security okay, but there was one little glitch. The guy at the gate did not stamp my ticket to affirm that I had shown him my ID, so the TSA people stopped me just as I was set to go through the metal detector. There I was, shoeless, with my belt and my hat and my laptop plus God only knows how much equipment in my carry-on. And they were telling me I have to go back through the line.

I was dumbstruck.

ME: You mean I’ve got to go all the way back through that line?!

TSA Lady: (Calmly) No sir, you just have to go through that area and we will get someone to stamp your ticket for you. And then we will bring you back through.

ME: Oh, Okay.

TSA Lady: Right this way sir.

We walked just a few steps away and the guy at the gate – who was almost asleep – looked at my ID, looked at my ticket, looked at me, and stamped it with the little red rubber thing. And then the nice TSA lady took me back through the security gate.

I was relieved and she thanked me for my “compliance.” That was the word she used. But she was pleasant enough and I got to my gate in plenty of time. They stopped me again after x-raying my bag with all the TV stuff in it. They did one of those explosive tests – you know, where they swab the inside of things to see if it has been exposed to ammonium nitrate or something. I was secretly hoping that the person who had the TV kit before me wasn’t in Iraq or something. We could have had a problem.

But it was negative.

I put back on my shoes, my belt, my hat, took my portfolio with all my stuff in it, grabbed the 10-ton bag of equipment and now I am waiting for the currency exchange to reopen. And I am eating a Starbucks turkey sandwich and drinking coffee. Do you believe 550 calories and 22 grams of fat for one sandwich! If I hadn’t paid eight bucks for it I would have taken it back. But I don’t expect them to feed us very well on the plane. So I wanted to grab something before I left.

The U.S. athletes were in the airport in one big group when I got there. Apparently it was the soccer team or something. And they were pleasant enough. You can always tell the jocks. They carry themselves differently, particularly those good enough to compete at the Olympic level. When I flew to Argentina for the 1995 Pan Ams it was on a plane full of jocks too. I wonder if any of them will be on this flight. Guess I’ll find out in a couple of hours.

I don’t have any cash. I was going to cash a traveler’s check but there is a seven dollar fee. Maybe I should get some cash anyway. That’s probably the prudent thing to do.

8:26

I got some money – I caved in and paid the $5.95 fee for travelers cheques. I also got some Brazilian Real. It cost me $130.57 for 200 Real. Now I am in the midst of some of the U.S. team members all of them with Nike shoes and matching shorts and t-shirts on. And I still have about another 15 minutes or so before boarding starts. I am trying to brush up on some of my Portuguese survival phrases.

9:20 pm
The plane is delayed. I have been trying to brush up on the Portuguese language studies. So far, I think I have memorized “Do You Speak English?” (voce falla Ingles?) That’s about all I can remember right now.

I also want to memorize “excuse me,” (esculpe me) and “I need to go to the hotel.” I also need to get things like “what time is breakfast” and “I do not understand” (Il no intendo – like there’s no Nintendo player).

This airport is full of people. There’s a lot of them standing in line at the gate – which changed from the original C5 to C8. But no one is going anywhere until the powers that be open the gate and start calling boarding.

Commo vai – how are you? Maiso menos. So-so. Plazair en conosel. Nice to meet you. Keep practicing.

Still no announcement on the plane. Just delayed. Now the numbers changed – it leaves at 10:100. No plane, no flight.

9:45 pm Now the flight doesn’t leave until10:10pm. Again, aircraft delayed. Take all the time you need fellas. Don’t hurry> I have heard that the air traffic control situation in Rio sucks. So I don’t want anyone to rush or try to cut corners. Movement at the gate. People are getting up. Pushing their way toward the gate. Maybe it’s time to go.

10:30 pm Still at Dulles. The Captain just came on the intercom and said that MAINTENANCE has something they need to do to the airplane and apparently its mandatory. So I am in my seat – waiting. They estimate it will take about 30 minutes to do whatever maintenance needs to do. The armrest cover fell off the arm rest next to me and I put it back. They are also passing out the landing cards. Give the customers something to do. But we’ll get there eventually. The captain promised. Right now I think I have the New Age channel pumped up on the headset. That’s enough to make anyone sleepy. We’ll see. Right now it’s time to take off my shoes and listen to the flutist and pianist play.

11:09- finally off the ground. Nine hours in the air

Monday 9 July 2007

Somewhere over the Amazon

I got absolutely no sleep last night. Even with the upgrade, when the person in front of you reclines their seat all the way back, you either have to do the same, or feel that familiar sardine feeling. I wanted to sleep; I tried to, but I didn’t. My left leg felt like it was on the verge of a cramp for hours and I could not find a comfortable way to sit. Once we get to Sao Paolo, everyone gets off the plane, they mix us with a flight that came in from Chicago.

9:10 Sao Paolo Airport

I finally got a couple of hours of fitful sleep. I guess my desire to sleep was stronger than my lack of comfort. But I was awakened by the breakfast cart – the flight attendants put the little breakfast on my tray, but I never ate it and they took it away. I did drink the coffee. Then we got off in Sao Paolo to go through security – they had one gate with three people on it – to get back on the same plane we left. I literally will be getting back in the same seat for the flight to Rio. Everybody has to make sure we’re safe. The Brazilian TV on in the airport is kind of like VOA’s tv.

9:19 (Brazil time) I just sat back in the same seat I was in from Washington. It’s cleaner, like they scrubbed out the plane a little. But it’s the same seat. Ah well. On to Rio!

10:04 pm After arriving in Rio exhausted, I have had a full day. I spoke to some of the USOC folks at the airport, and they told me that I should have received a packet with my credential information in it. They also told me that if I didn’t get it I would have to fight it out on my own. So I went to my hotel – which turned out to be a very charming place – even if it is far from the us stop to catch the media shuttle. And it’s almost an hour through hellish traffic to get to the media center.

The favelas are about as depressing as you could imagine. Think of the worst tree house fort you ever built – you know the kind of thing that fell in when the first high wind came. And now imagine millions of people living in conditions not much better than that. All over the hills in Rio. And right in the middle of the squalor is the multimillion dollar Maracana stadium, a gleaming white temple of football. But to get to it you have to go through a pretty desolate neighborhood. I wouldn’t want to leave MY car parked there during a game.

At the press center I discovered that while my name is in the system and my affiliation is in there, my vitals – passport number, visa number, father’s name, mother’s name, place of birth, country of birth – were NOT THERE! So I had no choice but to come back to my hotel and get the passport and take it tomorrow. I was going to try to get back tonight, but they only stayed open until 9:00 and I wouldn’t have made it there with the traffic. It was just about as bad as any I have been in – Hampton Roads, Washington, New York, anywhere.

I came back to my hotel and ate dinner at a charruacera ? or something like that where they have guys come by with big – and I MEAN BIG – skewers of meat. And they slice you off as much as you want until you say stop. And they bring fruit and fries, and oysters, and fried bananas and rice and bread and everything you could imagine. And you just pluck it off the skewers. And they won’t stop until you tell them to. They will NOT stop piling stuff on your plate until you say Nao!

So I am full, and tired, and frustrated, and wondering what to do tomorrow. Right now I am going to bed. Bom Noite.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Video madness

I tried my hand at video on the mall last Saturday. This is a rough cut version using Vegas Video 7. Be merciful.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Whatddya say?

I have been preparing for a trip for work - more e2 madness - and it has been driving me up the wall. It's all last minute, throw it at the wall something will stick kind of planning.

And for once, I can't really be upset with my employer for the way they handle things. This time it's the place I'm going that has made thing more complicated. But it has also taught me about what it means to let go of stuff. I had to get to the point where I said "God, you know about this. Not only do you know about it, but you also had to allow it to happen the way that it happened. So here it is. You take over."

That was hard for me to say cuz I can be a bit of a control freak. And I tend to take it out on people around me. But this trip (to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) has the potential to be really a cool time. And I have seen things come together all at once - but not until the last minute.

It reminded me of something a friend of mine said in his testimony about how God provided a job for him when he was let go during the Savings and Loan crisis. My friend said that God spoke to his heart and said "I am seldom early, but I am never late."

So there it is. I look forward to this trip. Look for postings from Rio. I am definitely going to try to catch some Brazilian music, in addition to the sports stuff and will post photos.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Balancing act

This issue of performance versus ministry continues to churn in my head and heart. I was watching Ken Burns' Jazz a couple of days ago, specifically the chapter called "Risk" about Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie and Miles Davis. The program talked about the instrumental virtuosity of Parker and Diz, and had some archival footage of the two of them playing on the Downbeat Awards Show in the 1950s. And Bird was flying - 250 bpm no doubt. And like all true artists, he made it look effortless. His face held no expression, but his voice - his horn - spoke volumes to anyone who would listen.

Many sax players have tried to imitate Bird, they have tried to sound like he sounded play like he played and have tirelessly learned every note he played - even the bad ones. But his voice - his style - came out of who he was - his life, his times, his experience. It all came out of his horn.

Which leads me to these thoughts about worship music:

1) It is a performance in front of people. It is doing something with skill and it requires training, because even people who do not play an instrument can recognize good - or bad - music. It's part of the world in which we live, it's part of being alive. We hear music everywhere - on television, in the movies, in traffic, at the store. Some stores subscribe to a particular kind of music to make you feel more comfortable shopping there.

So when the public - and I am talking in an American context only - comes to a church service, they carry a subconscious expectation of what music is supposed to sound like. Depending on your ecclesiastical tradition, they might see an organ, a piano, guitars, drums, a full band, a choir, or any number of musical instruments. And seeing that ignites the expectation that there will be music. But if that music is poorly played or disjointed or distracting, they will remember that more than anything else.

It's not fair - I know. Church bands or music groups might not have the resources that produce the high quality media that people are used to in the marketplace. But one person with a guitar can be as powerful as an angelic messenger depending on their heart condition.

2) Referring to my earlier post, the best music in the world will not cause people to worship. At best it is a tool, but worship is a heart response to God's invitation. God both initiates and receives worship.

True worship comes from the heart of the people involved. A simple arrangement can yield a powerful result because of the intent and response of those playing.

But music does play a role - it can be a road sign, extolling God's virtues, speaking of His mercies, telling the story of redemption and offering hope.

I have described this tension between performance and ministry as being like balancing a marble on a glass table. It can be done, but you have to pay attention. You don't want to drop the marble, and you don't want to scratch the table. So care must be taken. Like all analogies, this one breaks down if you take it too far.

So while we may never escape the idea of performing when it comes to a worship service, the intent is always to facilitate an encounter with God. He is the One for whom all things exist and for Whose pleasure everything was created.

Friday, May 25, 2007

What does It Mean?

What does the word worship mean to you? As a church musician I have had to explore what it means to worship and what I have found was surprising.

Let me preface my remarks by saying the last thing I want to do is criticize the way someone relates to God. My personal relationship with the Almighty has gone through (and goes through) some difficult times. I guess a better way to ask the question is what does the Bible mean when it says "worship."

Is it a musical genre? Is it our lifestyle? Is it something we do as a community? I have found that worship is something we are commanded to do, but it is also something we cannot do for ourselves.

One of the authors I have read makes the point that worship is our response to God's action - both his action in Christ through redemption, his action through the church and in our lives. God is the one who initiates worship; we are the responders.

But back to the fundamental question: what is worship. The dictionary definition is "reverent honor and homage paid to God or a sacred personage, or to any object regarded as sacred. Also, adoring reverence or regard."

In the Bible, there are a variety of words translated "worship" but the main Hebrew word is shachah while the number one Greek word translated worship in the New Testament is proskuneo . Both of them carry a similar meaning - to bow down. Literally, to put your forehead on the ground as a sign of reverence.

According to one lexicon, shachah means "to bow down, to prostrate oneself before a superior in homage; to bow down before God in worship." Out of 166 times this word is used in the Old Testament, it is translated "worship" 99 times.

As for proskuneo it is defined as "to kiss the hand towards one, in token of reverence. Among Orientals, esp. Persians, to fall on the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence. In the NT, by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication."prostration

One interesting side note about proskuneo, it can mean literally to lick or kiss the hand, like a dog does his master. I used to find that insulting until I learned something about dogs (thank you Cesar Milan, aka, "The Dog Whisperer"). When a dog licks its masters' face or hand, it is not a simple sign of affection; it is an acknowledgement that you are above him, that you are higher in the pack than he is. So the meaning of "proskuneo" took on a new light for me; worship is a way of acknowledging that we are not God, that He is higher than we are.

But this kind of worship is not something we can cook up, no matter how many Chris Tomlin songs we sing. It is a response to God's action. As Richard Foster wrote in The Celebration of Discipline:

"Worship is our responding to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father. Its central reality is found "in spirit and truth." This is kindled within us only when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit. Forms and rituals do not produce worship, nor does the formal disuse of forms and rituals. We can use all the right techniques and methods, we can have the best possible liturgy, but we have not worshiped the Lord until Spirit touches spirit ....singing, praying, praising, all may lead to worship, but worship is more than any of them. Our spirit must be ignited by divine fire."
WOW Worship Aqua
But be advised, that kind of worship is dangerous - dangerous to our selfishness and complacency. As Mark Labberton wrote in The Dangerous Act of Worship,

"When worship is our response to the One who alone is worthy of it - Jesus Christ - then our lives are on their way to being turned inside out. Every dimension of self-centered living becomes endangered as we come to share God's self-giving heart. Worship exposes our cultural and even spiritual complacency toward a world of suffering and injustice . . . Worship sets us free from ourselves to be free for God and God's purposes in the world."

Next time, I want to look at another question: "Who is the Worship Leader?" I welcome your comments.

(Images courtesy of New York Surveillance players, http://www.notbored.org/scp-photographs.html, pixelperfectonline, and Wow worship.)

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Is it Art, Service or Both?

hydraulis mosaicIs worship a performance? Is it a service or is it a mixture of both? Part of what I have been doing recently is reviewing some of the materials I studied on the way to my Masters from Regent.

One of those materials is The New Worship: Straight Talk on Music and the Church by Barry Liesch. He asks some tough questions and makes some good points about worship in the church. One of the questions he asks is "Should the word 'performance' be avoided in the pulpit?" I don't think so, but I believe it should be qualified.

One of the struggles I have as a musician is the difference between giving - and being satisfied with - a good performance, versus entering into intimate worship of God. When I am playing a church service, my main focus tends to be on getting the notes right, making sure my instrument is in tune and not too loud (or is loud enough!) and blending in with the other performers on the stage.

But I have also read articles and sections of books that encourage leaders to pick people who shine, who reflect the joy of being in God's presence in their faces and actions. I don't know that my 'focusing' face does that; I'm more concerned with making sure I am in time with the rest of the band and I am not distracting the congregation by playing poorly.

Does that mean that focusing on performance is wrong? I don't think so. C.S. Lewis is quoted as saying "Boiling an egg is the same process whether you are a Christian or a Pagan." So making music is the same whether you are playing in church or in a stadium - you are doing something difficult in front of people and it needs to be done well. Otherwise you're not being honest.

What does a thready performance say? "I don't care enough to spend the time to practice to do this well?" "You people (the audience or the congregation) are not worth the time it takes to make sure this is done properly?" "God is not as great as we say because we offer Him something we threw together at the last minute instead of taking the time to prepare?"

But our acceptability to God is not based on what we can do; our acceptability to God is based on what He has done in the death and resurrection of Christ. So where does performance come in? Are we serving the people - the audience or the congregation - or are we serving God? Or are we serving both? More and more I am coming to see that we are doing both - serving God and the people.

I remember reading an article many years ago by John Michael Talbot, a monk who has released several albums and published several books on worship, mysticism, prayer and other topics including The Master Musician, The Joy of Music Ministry , and Come to the Quiet. He told of a time when he was struggling in his musical vocation. People were polite, they seemed responsive, but the power of God seemed absent; people did not seem to really worship in his services.

Ironically he got a fresh revelation from Barry McGuire - you know "The Eve of Destruction" guy from the 1960s? Barry told John that his problem was that he was trying to minister to the people instead of the Lord.

"Minister to the Lord," Barry said, "and let the Lord minister to the people." John tried that approach and saw wondrous responses of worship in his concerts. I also tried to employ this philosophy at a church where I was serving and I noticed more people responding as well.

And one thing I believe it is important to remember is that what we are doing - what we are performing - is something sacred. This is not your garage band playing "Sweet Home Alabama" or "Free Bird." This is a sacred employment. This is something holy; something special. It deserves to be done to the best of your ability, but the goal is to enter into the Holy Presence.

Paul Baloche, the writer of some of contemporary worship musics "big hits" like "Open the Eyes of My Heart" and "Above All" had something telling to say about this subject in an interview. When asked what he had learned about worship, Paul responded "That worship is a journey and God is always the goal." Singing, dancing, making music are expressions of the relationship we have with God.

I will have to chew on that for a while. I welcome your comments.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Now What?

I graduated from Regent University last week with a MA in Practical Theology. I used to tell people it was because I needed the practical help - a veiled reference to my own insecurity in living the Christian life.

The question is "Now What?"

I got an interesting insight into that question from two women - my systematic theology professor Estrelda Alexander and Oprah Winfrey. First Dr. Alexander.

She has degrees from Catholic University (PhD) Wesley Theological Seminary (M Div) Colombia (M.A.) and Howard (B.A.). She is also one of the most down-to-earth people I have ever met. And she is not afraid to tell it like it is. At the commissioning service we had last week, she asked me "so when are you going for your PhD?"

I was stunned. I kind of wanted to bask in the glow of my Masters for a little while before getting back into it. But Dr. A must have been asking for a good reason. She said I could be a good teacher, and that because I understood theology, I could help churches and other Christians avoid mistakes. It was a lot to think about.

Then today I saw Oprah Winfrey addressing Howard University's graduates here in DC. She said to never sell your integrity. To live from your heart, to serve others and to never forget that there are millions who do not have the privilege you do. It was moving, and it was "spiritually-based" - not really a sermon, but drawing from Oprah's religious background.

These two women reminded me of something that John Eldredge wrote in Wild at Heart . The quote went something like this:

"Don't ask what the world needs. Find what makes you truly come alive and go do that. What the world needs is people who are fully alive."

If our lives are part of a greater story - if we don't exist in a vacuum, where we are part of a tapestry and God has a special design for us, how should we live? What should come next?

I look forward to the adventure.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Thunder of silence

"Diane est Morte."

That's what I wrote on a note to a French-speaking colleague today. It was about one of the supervisors and a long-time employee at VOA, Diane Bradley. She died of liver cancer complications today at Sibley Hospital.

I thought I was being clever writing it in French. I should have known better.

I had known Diane for 18 years, but not as more than a co-worker. To some of my other colleagues she must have been someone special, because we all gathered at the center of the newsroom to remember her with a moment of silence.

It was strange. Most days, a room full of reporters would be interested in writing, or criticizing the government or talking baseball. Some of us would be bitching about our latest work project, or the incompetence of management or how short-sighted the latest appointee seems.

But not today.

Today there was silence. We remembered a fallen friend and co-worker. And we actually kept quiet for almost five minutes. One of our own had gone and we would not see her again.

It was tempting to say something, but silence spoke volumes. Often we waste our lives with rapier wit and cutting comments, or we live on the surface. But the death of one we knew brings it home. It realigns the priorities. Finally, someone spoke up and said "Diane was a radio person; she would probably wonder why we're all standing around."

With that we all left and went back to our desks. And the noise resumed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What can you say?

(c) Photo of vigil by Chu XiaoLike many others, I was shocked to see the tragedy that befell students, faculty members and families this week at Virginia Tech. Some people ask the question we all have: "Why?"

This is the unanswerable question. Even Franklin Graham says that no one can answer why. We can only grieve with those who grieve and listen to their pain.

When tragedy befalls us, why is often the first question we ask. It happened when another young man - also a former student from Centreville, Virginia, opened fire on a local police station, killing two officers and wounding several others before being killed himself.

It happened when Timothy McVeigh and his co conspirators blew up a Federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. We asked why again when terrorists flew planes into buildings and thousands died. It happened right after Christmas in 2004 when a massive tsunami killed hundreds of thousands in the Indian ocean.

And then there was Katrina.

Families in the American military ask why their son or daughter had to die. We look to the skies and ask "where was God?"

I know He is there, but could He not have stopped this? Could He not have made the pistols misfire or the police find the gunman before the murders, or reduce the number of deaths?

Yes, He could have, but for whatever reason, He did not and what happened did happen. But that does not mean - as the atheists would reason - that God is not there; it does not mean that He does not care. It does not mean that He cannot act or that we live in a universe where God started the clock and then left us to our own devices.

For me, it reaffirms that life is precious and we cannot presume. It calls forth deep sadness, especially when I see the faces of the victims. It makes me realize that nothing is guaranteed except God.

A friend of mine lost his wife to brain cancer several years back. She died quickly, going from a vibrant woman in her early 50s to a corpse in less than six months. And she was a fervent believer in Christ and in Divine healing.

But she died.

And her husband grieved for her. But he said what he had learned through it all was that God is God and that John 3:16 - "for God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but should have everlasting life" - is true. He has since remarried and moved on, but the memory remains.

I agree with Franklin Graham - We don't know all the whys. We probably will not know them. We look around for someone to blame, but even our railing against the skies or against God or against gun laws or against the killer doesn't satisfy.

But this has made all the petty things that seem to trouble us seem so small - traffic, blackberry's server failing, the stock market's ups and downs. They all pale into vapor compared with the real life suffering and shock we feel. And even as we grieve, more than 120 people were blown to shreds in Baghdad - again - today.

So hold your loved ones closer. And live. Don't just survive. Live!

O merciful Father, who hast taught us in thy holy Word that thou dost not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men: Look with pity upon the sorrows of thy servants for whom our prayers are offered. Remember them, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of thy goodness, lift up thy countenance upon them, and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Foot in Neck disease

So the I-Man is history. Stuck his foot too far down his neck to recover and now he's toast. So long I-Man.

The thing that is remarkable about this is that the phrase he used was mild by some hip-hop standards. Granted, it was stupid. It was insensitive. It brought back memories of a time when racial stereotyping and insensitivity was not only blatant, but approved.

But Imus is a "shock jock." He makes his living by pushing people's buttons. This time he pushed the wrong ones and now he's got a pink slip. Maybe he'll do like Howard Stern and go to Sirius/XM where he can say whatever he likes and no one can say 'boo' to him because it's a pay service.

But should we be shocked? I mean don't you know what you're getting when you tune into his show? Or Howard Stern? Or Tony Kornheiser? Or Tucker Carlson? You come to these shows with an expectation of content. And if you hear something you don't like, turn it off. Or call the advertisers (which probably played a bigger role in Imus's dismissal than anything).

I don't listen to Imus. I don't listen to Howard Stern. I also don't listen to Hank Hannegraaff, the man who calls himself "the Bible Answer Man." Why? Because I don't care to hear what they have to say. I have to be responsible for my own thinking; I cannot say "well I hold that opinion because so-and-so does." That's a cop-out. That's dishonest.

Oh, and you can call me white boy, pale face, cracker or honkie if you'd like. I had nothing to do with that and it has nothing to do with me.

Friday, April 06, 2007

You are #*$)@*#$ hosed!

Washington DC FlagI learned something today that I wish were not true.

If you lose money in a DC parking meter, there's nothing you can do.

They have these signs on the side with a number to call if something is wrong with the meter. But when I called it and explained the situation (I had put $2.50 into a four-hour meter and then it went FAIL on me, so I had no time and no money) the operator told me there was no way to get my money back.

Me: "I put $2.50 into a parking meter on I street Southwest and I was wondering ...."

Her: "What's the meter number?"

Me: "You could let me finish my sentence before you ask me something. I'm not trying to report a broken meter; I want to get my money back."

Her:
"Well sir we just handle repairs for the meters. We don't give refunds."

Me:
"So you're telling me that there's no way to get my money back from this thing?"

Her: "That's right sir."

Me: "Okay. I see I'm on a fool's errand. Thanks."

Her: "Thank you, sir."

I wanted to take a sledge hammer and smash the stupid meter. I wouldn't take all of the quarters; just 10 of them - the number I put in there. But I realize that would be a crime. So I just moved to another meter, one that works, and put in my money for four hours.

So be warned. If you come to our lovely Chocolate City, and you park at a meter, and as you put your money in, it stops giving you time and reads "FAIL" or "OUT OF ORDER" you are screwed. There is nothing you can do. Welcome to the Collective.

Friday, March 30, 2007

A hero's welcome

Homecoming statue in San DiegoIf you need a good cry, click the link on the title of this post.

It takes you to a video of U.S. Navy Ensign Bill Hawes as he surprises his 6-year-old son and his son's first grade class by returning early.

Apparently the whole class had been writing to John's dad while he was deployed in Iraq. John Hawes had no idea his daddy was coming home early and no idea he was coming to his school, apparently. So the tears are genuine.

It made me think of a lot of analogies - especially fathers and sons, Christ's return for his children, the parable of the prodigal (okay it's the return home thing).

It also brought home the personal costs of the war in Iraq - families separated for months or years, people dying, tears of loss instead of joy.

So be forewarned - if you don't have any tissues in the house, get some. If this video doesn't make you cry, then hold the lilly tightly while they close the casket.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Get my gun ... NOW!

I just watched the footage of Karl Rove trying to get his groove on at the White House Correspondent's dinner. You know, Karl Rove, the man so white that his skin looks blue in sunlight.

There he was in a tux, with some dude rapping, and Karl was trying to bust his move.

Note to history: Old, balding, doofy-looking white men cannot dance and should not subject the rest of humanity to the abuse of watching them. One would think with all the years of dancing around the truth, Karl would have aquired a sense of where the beat is.

Unfortunately for those of us who saw the tape, The Lord High Counselor and Architecht of all that's wrong with the world has proven the old adage about the line between Miami and Rome - those below it can dance and those above it drive big cars and make money.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Thaz jus sick

Wrecked Ferrari Enzo (c) LA Times.

Eddie Griffin, the star of the spoof flick Undercover Brother crashed a $1.2 million Ferrari Enzo during practice for a charity race in California. Click the link on this post to see a report and the crash.

The race was associated with the movie Redline, and included Jackie Chan and other celebrities. When he totalled the bright red Ferrari, which looked strikingly like the one on the poster for the new movie, Griffin said the undercover brother is fine, he just can't drive.

The car belonged to the movie's producer. If it's a publicity stunt, I hope the guy has good insurance. Also two Porsches were destroyed during filming of Redline; they were valued at $500,000 each.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

New Life

Japanese Magnolia blossumI took this shot of a Japanese Magnolia downtown today. It is a gray foggy day in DC, and this little flower was blooming on a tree outside the Switzer Building in Southwest.

It reminded me of something I read one time by Thomas Merton. He said something like a tree glorifies God by being a tree; it is what God created it to be. But what about us? We are not as God created us to be. We bear the marks of our forefather's rebellion against the Most High.

How do we glorify God? One answer to that vexing question is to allow Him to live His Life in us. Jesus told His disciples that "apart from me you can do nothing."

This point was brought home to me this week when I read an interview with singer Chris Rice. The interviewer asked him how he lived life on the road as a musician and a minister. He said that he didn't think that being a performer or singer was any different from being a businessman or a doctor or a housewife - you still have to bring glory to God regardless of where you are.

I had the thought "who you are now is who you would be in ministry because it is who you are." That was humbling. How I behave at work - in the godless world of journalism - would be how I would behave in ministry - where I would claim to represent God. Because that's who I am.

Thankfully in the same magazine, there was an article about reflecting the character of Jesus. It used the beatitudes in Matthew 5 as descriptions of the person in whom Christ lives. The first quality? Poor in spirit - in need of a Savior. And the promise? For theirs is the kingdom of God.

In Luke, Jesus read the passage from Isaiah that said he came to bind up the broken hearted; to free captives; to give sight to the blind. In Hebrews it says Jesus came to deliver those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

So there is hope. I am not what I will be; but I have One who will continue the work he began in me. Then I can be a channel of His life to others.

A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.
Thomas Merton

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Tony and the Gay Lobby

Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy has some gay and lesbian fans saying that they are "disappointed" after he said that he believes marriage should be one man and one woman.

Dungy was speaking at a dinner sponsored by an Indiana Group affiliated with Focus on the Family. Tickets for the shindig were about $75 each and the Super Bowl winning coach said he agrees with that organization's position supporting a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

According to the reports I saw, the local and national gay lobby is now upset that the coach would even appear at the banquet.

Whaaaaa??????

I think the Gay and Lesbian lobby folks need to wake up. Tony Dungy is a conservative Christian; he has made no bones about that. He has always said he wants to do things "the Lord's way." He even said that after the Colts won in Miami. And both he and Bears Coach Lovie Smith were praised for the way they handled their players.

So why do the gay lobbyists think that coach Dungy would change his beliefs simply because his team won the Super Bowl? Would he have been expected to change if the Colts had lost?

Tony Dungy has consistently stood for his faith; part of that faith says that homosexuality (along with pride, greed, rage, extra marital and pre-marital sex, and lying) is sinful. So why would the coach be expected to tone down what he has always stood for? Because some fans don't like it? Wouldn't that be compromising his character and denying the very thing that made him such a great coach to begin with?

So the argument is not with coach Dungy; the argument is with the Biblical morality he proclaims. Why don't people just be honest enough to say "we want to do what we want to do regardless of what the Bible, or God or Tony Dungy says." At least that would be honest.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

What is it good for?

I saw another photographer shooting a similar shot to this in the daffodils along the GW Parkway. It kind of hearkened back to the flower children days. But I shot it anyway.

During the demonstration I talked to a woman from Iran who was part of the protest. She has lived in the United States for 27 years and works for the U.S. government. But she was against the war. She said that murder was wrong regardless of who was doing it. I don't think that's what our troops are doing over there; perhaps it is the so-called "insurgents" that blow people up in buses or on their way to the market or to worship that she's talking about. I don't know.

I asked her if she didn't think it ironic that someone from Iran would be against a war in Iraq? She said that Iran did not start that war and that she hopes there will not be a U.S. war in Iran.

I asked her about Ahmedinajad and his government. She said that he doesn't have the support of most Iranians. She said that her own mother, who still lives in Iran, didn't even vote because she did not think it would make any difference.

Ironic isn't it. A lot of Americans feel the same way.

I also walked across the Memorial bridge to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I talked to some Vietnam Vets who were near the Memorial and the bronze statue of the three soldiers. These particular guys (and their wives) were from southern New Jersey. The guy I talked to said his group was there to make sure nothing happened to the Wall.

One of the demonstrators with a sign walked up and some of these guys were telling her to get lost. I was amazed that the women seemed like the ones ready to throw down. The white-haired guys with the handle bar moustaches were mostly just telling this woman off. But one of their wives was ready to kick some ass, no question asked.

But neither one of them seemed to be able to talk to one another; they seemed to be ready to talk at one another, but not to one another. Passion I see is catching.