November 12, 2010

Pants on the Ground

In my sermon last Sunday, I mentioned a story where I accidentally glued my sweatpants to our kitchen floor. I was trapped while laying tile and in a very awkward position. I eventually determined that the only way out was getting out of my pants.

After church, this came up in a conversation. In a joking way it was mentioned that many of the worlds problems can be solved by dropping your drawers. Thought about it a little bit, and it's true! Just look at what all can be done by removing your pants.

1. Make a tourniquet for a severely cut arm.

2. Inflate them and use them as a life preserver.

3. Totally freak out and scare away a burglar.

4. Make a donation to Goodwill.

5. Cool down if you are overheating. (Once was on a summer youth trip when the AC went out in one of the vans. We stopped at a convenience store, put all the guys in that van, and proceeded to make do if you know what I mean.)

6. Wade a stream.

7. Solves the should I tuck or not dilemma (accept for a few diehards who would keep tucking. You know who you are.)

8. Beat out a fire.

9. Totally embarrass your daughter and scare away her scuzzy boyfriend.

10. Airport security is a lot simpler in a pantsless society.

11. You can't "sag" if you are not wearing pants. At least I hope you can't.

12. Makes it easy to get that Tetanus shot.

And of course...

13. Ants in the pants.

Admittedly there would be a few problems. Where to put your wallet and keys? Old dudes in whitey-tighties. A nationwide run on bleach. But you could still visit your favorite restaurant. The sign says no shirt, no shoes, no service. It says nothing about pants.

November 3, 2010

I Learned Something

It's everywhere you turn. On the nightly news, on the cover of magazines, talk radio, podcasts, the Internet. The headlines scream it out, "Schools Failing", "Can the Education System be Fixed?", "America Falling Behind". NBC recently dedicated a whole week with numerous news programs focusing on education. And this may be one of the rare times when the media is actually correct that things are bad. Obviously, not every student in America is flunking out, but the problems are real and large.

However, while this may be news, it is not exactly new. These problems have been discussed for decades. Numerous solutions proposed. Spending increased. New standards adopted. Yet, here we are, still looking for a true fix to the problem. Most recently, there has been the widespread call for a better means of evaluating teachers. We must pay good teachers more, and get rid of the slackers. Only, we can't seem to agree that this is a good idea, nor on how you actually evaluate a "good teacher." So we keep arguing, and thinking, and debating.

Recently I had an experience that may shed a little bit of light on the situation. Every other Saturday I teach a class on parenting. This seminar is a court-ordered class and the majority of those attending are doing so because they are in the midst of divorce proceedings and they have children still living at home. Needless to say, many of those ordered to attend are not so happy to spend half a Saturday doing this. To lighten the mood, I start off with a quip about how this class is going to be way more fun and interesting than defensive driving. This is typically received with nervous laughter.

Last class I taught began even worse than normal. A monsoon came that morning, and everyone was drenched. There was a mix-up with the key to the building and people had to wait outside in the downpour. If it was possible, those attending were even less enthused than usual. But, believe it or not, four hours later several people told me as they were leaving how much they appreciated the class and that they really learned some things to help their parenting. One man even admitted that he came in not expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised by the material.

Now, according to the debate raging in this country, I must be an excellent teacher. I took a tough crowd, made tougher by circumstances, and convinced them to learn some new things. Some people actually enjoyed the class! And I will admit that I felt it was one of my better classes. Some days you just have it. However, on the evaluations participants fill out, a couple of people seemed to believe it was the worst experience of their lives. One person, when asked what they learned wrote, "Not a damn thing!"

So, if I'm such a good teacher (and I am!) then how did these few people get so little out of class, while others raved about what they had learned? Most people I know would say, "well, they had such bad attitudes, they weren't gonna learn anything no matter what." I agree. The problem in this case was not the teacher or the material, but rather the student (at least I hope). But then the question must be asked, "How do we evaluate education if the problem is sometimes the students themselves?"

It seems the one thing we refuse to consider when discussing education in America is that the problem may lie with the students. Specifically, that many students are unmotivated to learn. We all know of students (Abraham Lincoln being our favorite example) who seek to learn no matter the barriers placed before them. How do they learn without good teachers? Determination and motivation. Those traits seem to be conspicuously lacking in many students today.

Now please understand, I am not blaming seven year-olds for our educational woes. I am blaming the motivation and determination of many students for crippling the educational system in our country. There was a time when education was seen as a privilege that allowed you to seek a better life. It is still that way in many countries. In some developing countries there is an almost violent struggle to get your child into a school, because education is so valuable. But in America, many kids don't see the value in it. Many (including parents and children) assume that prosperity is some kind of right that just happens. So while our kids play video games and disrespect their teachers, they assume that in the end it will all work out. Meanwhile, kids in other countries know the real score and are passing our kids by.

So how do we build in some motivation for our students? How do you create a love of learning and a thirst for knowledge? Let's start by getting one thing out of the way. Good teachers make a difference. But, how much? A good teacher can probably take a student on the borderline and push them toward motivated learning. The better the teacher, I am sure the farther over that line they can reach. But only the rarest teacher can reach well beyond the line. So we can't count on a rare occurrence. We should get rid of terrible teachers (teachers that make kids who are interested in learning lose interest) but that still leaves us with our problem.

I am also sure that improvements in classroom management, better curriculum, etc... can have some sort of positive effect. But, can any of this overcome a student who is dead set against being there and learning? And can it even make a dent when that student is put in a classroom with several other students who are also determined to not learn?

At some point we must look at the student directly. The key to learning may be the learner! There is debate about how much difference a good verses great teacher makes. But we all know that someone really determined to learn is almost impossible to stop. A decent teacher with a student who is a voracious learner equals lots of learning.

So how can we motivate a large population that does not seem to care about their own education? Economists would say we must find the incentives. Something drives people to learn. There is some kind of payoff. As mentioned earlier, if you are in a poor, third world environment the incentive for learning may be survival, or drastic improvement of life. On the heels of this comes family pressure, since you may be the only one fortunate enough to have the opportunity of education. But what are the incentives in America? Should we pay students for attendance and grades? (Before you scoff, this is being tried with some success in a few school districts, and besides it kind of fits the idea that you have a job and there is a pay-off for showing up and doing it well.) How big a role do parents and family play in providing incentive? I'm thinking beyond a quarter for every A, but rather a family providing both examples of learning and incentives. Why should a seven year old learn to read if mom and dad know how but never pick up a book? Are parents viewed by their children as learning and growing even beyond "school"? What role does society play? Have we removed incentives for learning by focusing on screen-based entertainment? (You don't have to read or use algebra to play your Wii and watch Jersey Shore.) Have we elevated technology as the answer to the point that students believe if they can use Facebook and Twitter they are de facto computer scientists? Do the safety nets we place around people rob them of the motivation to improve their existence through education?

The bad news is that the problem may lie with the students. The good news is that the answer lies with the students. That class I taught had a couple of really unmotivated learners. But most of the people, even while struggling through a difficult time in their lives, seemed to interact with the material and at least made an attempt to apply it to their life. Of course they have a big motivation. I was teaching a parenting class. Most of them are about to become single parents. That could be considered quite an incentive to learn.

September 20, 2010

Concert Time Baby!

This blog post is more of a selfish advertisement than anything else. If you happen to be in Abilene on Saturday October 2, you really should come check out "It Ain't Easy Being Decent." That's what we are calling the evening, which consists of two decent bands playing some music. We don't claim to be great, but hey it's free, and you get what you pay for. So come on out. If I could be anything besides a preacher, it would be a rock musician. Well, for one night, here we go!

By the way, just in case you aren't sure, this is a concert. Not a church service. We will be playing music by the Who, Joan Jett, etc...

September 7, 2010

When Chippy Met Salsa

Last night I was at the church building getting ready for band practice (yes, I am in a rock band called "Something With Mustaches"). My boys and I were eating some hot dogs when I came upon a jar of salsa in the fridge. I brought it out since salsa goes with anything (except ice cream, found this out the hard way). As soon as I walked out with it, Grant said "Hey, are there any tortilla chips?" It's just a given that if you have salsa you need tortilla chips and if you have tortilla chips you need salsa.

Some foods just have to go with a particular other food. It's like each food may be decent or good, but they haven't found a true home until they are combined. Then, it is like marriage, the two become one.

Now, I am not talking about combining ingredients. Eggs and flour and sugar making a cake doesn't count. It must be foods that really stand on their own, but have become married to another in way that is wonderful.

So what follows is my list of the greatest food get-togethers in all of history.

10. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Don't want to think about what's in gravy (grease and milk) but can't imagine mashed potatoes without it. Add chicken-fried steak to the mix and your talking an all-time classic meal. I mean, isn't Grandy's existence based solely on the fact that we like chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, and gravy so much that we will occasionally purchase a cheap, fast, sub-par facsimile.

9. Bacon and eggs. Especially a couple of fried eggs over medium.

8. Beans and rice. Most underrated on the list. Usually thought of as the pairing that poor college students live on, but a really well made red beans and rice is delicious.

7. Butter and cranberry sauce. This is personal. Most of you have never tried it. But every Thanksgiving I take some cranberry sauce (must be shaped like the can) and smash some butter up in it. Put it on a roll or eat it alone. I also enjoy a flour tortilla with melted butter and salsa on it.

6. Rotel and Velveeta. As close to breaking my rule about separate ingredients rather than separate foods. But come on. These two items existed separately first. Velveeta invented in 1918 (is it a food if it is "invented"?) while Rotel didn't appear until the 1940's. I would love to see a sales chart for each of these products. My bet is that nobody bought them. Then you see a gigantic spike. Somebody accidentally got them together. Now, I am sure that if one went out of business the other would cease to exist almost immediately.

5. Cheeseburger and French Fries. Now we know that eating a lot of this is bad for us. Too bad eighty-four percent of America consumes only this. (That is a true fact, I read it on the Internet)

4. Peanut butter and Frito's. Parker men dig this. My dad, my brothers and I can stand around the kitchen with a jar of creamy Jif (all other peanut butter brands are horrible and stupid, I don't care what you like, there is only one, and it is Jif, all others must bow before it) on the counter with an open bag of Frito's. Let the dipping begin. Have spent more time with my Dad doing this than any other activity. And for all you "crunchy" fans just know that if you dip enough Frito's the shrapnel eventually leaves the Jif (bow down) crunchy.

3. Cookies and milk. Whoever the first person was who said "you know, that Oreo should not just be eaten with the milk, it should be swimming in it", should be the fifth head on Mt. Rushmore. If they marketed a gallon of milk that came with a package of Oreos already in it I would so by it. And hide it in the church fridge so my wife wouldn't know it.

2. Peanut butter and jelly. In the lunch sack. Every day. For like ten years. And I still love it. Proof that the phrase "you can have too much of a good thing" is moronic.

1. Chips and salsa. The Brangelina of food couplings. Whenever this became big in America (late seventies, early eighties) caught me right as I was developing my own personal food tastes. Yes the eighties may have given us bad hair, parachute pants and Twisted Sister, but it was all worth it for the discovery that a fried tortilla dipped in a fiery tomato-based sauce will be the appetizer sitting on the table when God throws His great banquet.

August 25, 2010

August 22, 2010 Sermon: Bad News, Good News

After many weeks of up and down stuff in our revamped sound booth, we are good to go. A new sermon should now appear promptly every week. This week began a series on "Good News."

8.22.10 Bad News and Good News.mp3

August 10, 2010

To Hell and Back

A week ago my family packed up our bags, piled in the Suburban, and headed to Houston for my youngest brother's wedding. Eight hours in the car with five children (including a baby). In the middle of a heat and humidity wave. With a baby whose favorite thing to do right now is pierce your eardrum with a screaming screech that should be patented by the Department of Defense as a new weapon of mass destruction.

This past Friday, we took the four oldest children to Six Flags. We had free tickets. The lines were short. My kids are happy eating a picnic out of the back of the car, so I spent NO MONEY! (Except for the 8000 dollars in gas.)

Is it a sign that I am getting old that I preferred the trip to the wedding over going to Six Flags?

Seriously. I was so glad to watch my children have a wonderful time at Six Flags. To see how they have grown braver and taller and so are able to experience all sorts of new rides. But, it was 106 degrees. It was humid. I almost blacked out on a roller coaster because of the number of G's it pulls on some wicked spirals (and my dehydration probably contributed as well.) On the plus side I extended my record streak to three in a row of Six Flags trips without vomiting.

I left Six Flags feeling like a wienie. But after a little reflection I realized something profound. People often imagine Hell being hot. That is probably true. But it will also be humid. And there will be little misting machines that will fool you into believing they will cool you down. Only, any time you approach one you will be rebuffed by a herd of children demons. You will be forced to ride roller-coasters that would appear to be fun. But you will exit each one feeling disoriented, dizzy, and certain that any moment you will actually witness your stomach exiting your mouth. To top it all off, you will be tormented by a nagging feeling that you should be enjoying yourself, that this should all be fun. And underneath in your heart of hearts you will know that this Six Flags will never close and allow you to mercifully go home.

When I was young I used to believe that heaven would be Six Flags all the time. Now I know, that is Hell.

July 6, 2010

Fourth is Second

Fourth of July is an underrated Holiday. Between the grilling, the warm weather, the time spent at the lake or the pool, and of course blowing stuff up, it's my second favorite holiday. (You can't touch Thanksgiving.) What makes it so great is how relaxed it is. Very little work has to go into a great Fourth. There is not the pressure of shopping or getting the perfect costume. Simply throw on a bathing suit and you're ready. So honor of the Fourth of July, here are four Fourth memories.

1. When I was young I spent many Fourths in Henderson, Texas. I would stay at my grandparents along with my cousins Michael, Kevin and Preston. We spent our days exploring, playing "piggie wants a signal", and playing badminton. Since Wimbledon was always on that week, we each pretended we were a tennis star (I was always the totally cool Bjorn Borg.) Then on the evening of the Fourth, everyone would head to Lake Forest Park. There, the local Jaycees put on a fireworks display. One year the shot them off to close to the crowd (shrapnel rained down upon us), the next year backed up and set the woods on fire. It was a small show, but always exciting. When I was five or six, my cousins and I rode in my parent's car to the show. As we sat in the back my mother noticed us giggling. Some high school girls were waving and flirting with us. My mom asked what was so funny. My cousin Preston (who was also five or six) turned around, bit the palm of his hand and said, "Foxes!"

2. As we got older we began spending many Fourths at my aunt's lake house. Lot's of skiing, tubing, fishing and shooting pool. And of course, the massive amount of fireworks we would shoot of her pier. In spite of all the fun we had, the Fourth at the lake I remember best was not fun. It was 1986, and I was particularly excited about the Fourth. This was the year that the refurbished Statue of Liberty was to be unveiled during "Liberty Weekend." Being a history buff I looked forward to watching this on TV while celebrating with our typical lake entrapment's. Alas, it was not to be. On the morning of the Fourth I woke up early with stomach pains. I won't go into details, but let me just say that I had a stomach virus and it was two for the price of one, if you know what I mean. Spent the entire day in bed or in the bathroom. Woke up just enough to watch the NYC fireworks display.

3. On July 4, 2000 my wife went into labor with our first child. Talk about fireworks. Although Grant wasn't born until the fifth, we spent the evening at the hospital. In fact we watched the Abilene fireworks display from a hospital window. What I love about having a child born on that date is that for several years when Grant was young, he kinda thought that the celebrations and fireworks were something special done just for him.

4. Finally, I love this Jim Gaffigan take on holidays. And my favorite part is his take on the Fourth of July. I completely relate.

June 22, 2010

June 21, 2010

And Counting

Last Thursday night the census bureau called me. Needed to ask me a few questions. The woman on the phone then proceeded to ask me to verify every single piece of data that I had previously put on my census form. I laughed under my breath through the entire call.

Weeks ago we received a letter informing us that we would be receiving the census form.

We then received a postcard stating that our census form was on the way.

Then came the actual form.

Within a few days we received more correspondence reminding us to make sure and send back in our form.

I sent the form back in.

Then came the phone call.

Now, I have no problem with the government getting a good head count. But is this not overkill? I looked all over for some statistics to try and quantify this. Here is the best I could come up with. The government is hiring 635,000 census workers, to count 300,00,000. That's a worker hired to count 472 people. Or how about this: the census cost a little more than 60 cents per person in 1950 ($91.4 million). It is projected to cost nearly $47 per person in 2010 ($14.5 billion). That’s a whopping 7822% increase in cost per person. During the same time, the population rose by 100% (i.e., doubled) from 150 million to over 300 million. But the overall cost of counting it (the census) rose by 15,800%. When did counting become so costly?

Here is my idea. Mail everyone the census. In the packet promise to give every household who fills it out and turns it in $20. Now, all that is left is to find the few people who didn't do it. And you have more than half your budget to do it.

June 17, 2010

Showing Up

On Monday, my father underwent a prostatectomy. I went to Tyler to be with my parents during the surgery and his first couple of days of recovery. They had no idea I was coming, and I feel the surprise was well received.

I arrived Sunday evening, and very quickly we all headed to bed since my father's surgery was scheduled for early Monday morning. May parents headed to the hospital around 5:00am and I went around 6:00am. At the front desk they informed my that my dad was still in pre-op and I was welcome to join him, but only two people were allowed back at a time. No problem, since it would just be myself and my mom (and possibly my brother who lives in Tyler.) However, when I got to the pre-op area I was greeted by a crowd. There was the usual suspects (mom, brother, my dad's sister who lives an hour away), but that was not all. Several people from my parent's church had arisen at an ungodly hour to be with my dad for a few minutes before he went into surgery.

After my dad was wheeled away, everyone moved to the waiting area where we were joined by many more people. Friends my parents met when they first moved to Tyler (I was a year old), the only preacher I ever knew growing up and his wife, my best friend's parents, etc... It was like old home week. Everyone wanted to know about my wife, kids and job. We talked about our experiences with the same dentist (we've all been to John Scott). Laughed about people we all know. I almost felt guilty enjoying myself so much while my dad underwent cancer surgery.

Later that afternoon, as I sat in my dad's hospital room, I had time to reflect on the events of the morning. The day began with worries about my dad's cancer and impending surgery. It ended with him resting (about as comfortably as possible after a surgery) in his hospital room. In between, I experienced real love, concern and community.

This is how we want things to be. What we hope for. That people will be there for us when the chips are down. But so often we think this just happens. That people either show up or don't because of some cosmic happenstance. But that's just not true. Look at the facts.

My parents have lived in the same town for 36 years.

They have attended the same church for 32 years.

My mom has attended almost every bridal and baby shower held during that span.

My parents bring food to those who are sick, host the single parents and their kids for swimming at their house, and throw a killer New Year's party.

Don't get me wrong. My parents aren't the most theologically sophisticated people you will ever meet (that is not a put down by the way), but they know how to stick with it. They have stuck with the same church and same people for decades. Everyone who showed up weren't people my parents have shared all their darkest secrets with, my parents are too private for that. But they are people with whom they have shared life, long-term.

Community isn't an accident. It is not simply a product of a charismatic leader. Rather, community is the result of the slow and often repetitive process of staying with people. Community is not first and foremost something that happens or we strive for, it is something that grows out of showing up in people's lives. Again. And again. And again. And again. And again.

June 1, 2010

April 17, 2010

Family Choices

A recent article I read online prompted me to write this blog entry. The article was about the Duggar family, who have nineteen children and a reality show about their family. I encourage you to read the article (linked above). I cannot explain it all, but the article and especially many of the comments posted in response to it truly bashed large, homeschooling, religious families. So here is my response.

Simply put, I do not watch this show because I do not have cable or dish. My family (which is large) chooses to spend our money elsewhere. I would not put my children on TV.

However, any knock on what this family is doing should stop at their willingness to market themselves. How they raise their family is their business. I am simply glad that they are actually raising their family. Too many people allow day care, the government and the school system to be the primary influences in their children's lives. Why have children, if you do not plan to raise them?

My children are home schooled. They are obedient, well-spoken and able to interact with people of all ages, not just peers. My nine year old son knows Latin. I also know many children who attend public schools who are well-adjusted and thoughtful. These are choices we as parents must make about what is best for our children and our families. However, most people do not consider there to be any choice, but instead are pulled along by society into doing what everyone else is doing. It is not that homeschooling is the right choice, but rather thinking through all possibilities and doing what is best for your particular family and children.

There are many myths about large families in America. Overpopulation is one such myth: our greatest resource is well-adjusted people. The problem isn't overpopulation, it is under population of character-driven people of integrity. Any family producing such people...we should all hope they produce more.

Children from home-schooling families not being socialized is another myth. If by socialization we mean raising teenagers who talk back to parents and teachers, show little respect for authority, spend most of their time texting and playing video games, and find education to be a joke, then we need less socialization. Why would I want my children to spend most of their time around other people their exact same age? I want my children to have a broad range of experiences with all kinds of people. Homeschooling can provide that, but it is up to the parent to make sure it does. Public schools may provide a diversity of backgrounds. However, children must be grouped into classes where everyone is their same age and same basic education level. Therefore, public schools face a different type of challenge when seeking to expose children to diversity.

Finally, there is the myth that children from large families don't receive the love or attention they need. This could be true. Mom and Dad and other relatives might not give of themselves the way they should? But this also happens in small families. An only child can be neglected by overworking or selfish parents. And a home with many children can be a place of real love and deep relationships. Is it really bad to have an older sibling spend some time with a younger one? Isn't that what families dream about, their children taking some responsibility in life and loving each other? Is the key to a child's future really found in more free time to text their friends about the homework they are not doing?

As stated above, in the end families must make decisions based on what they believe to be best. Anytime this becomes an opportunity to demonize or dismiss those who make a different choice, goes against both democratic and Christian ideals.

March 23, 2010

Trust and Obey (Revival #2)

Something went wrong when I previously tried to post this sermon. Hopefully it is now fixed.

Trust-01.17.10_Damon Parker.mp3

March 15, 2010

You Gotta Laugh

In the past few weeks two separate, yet undoubtedly related events have brought me some supreme chuckles (laughter, not the candy.) The first is the White House deciding to commission a group of people to figure out why we have a federal budget deficit and what we can do about it. If you can't see the humor in this, then you might hurt yourself. The government, the people in charge of making the decisions for the most powerful nation in the world, need a special commission to point out that when you spend more than you bring in it leads to a deficit. Boy I am so glad these guys are in charge. But here's the rub. Pretty good chance the commission won't come to the conclusion that spending more than you bring in is the problem.

Let me offer a simple solution for our federal budget deficit. Pass a law that until the deficit is gone, the federal budget for the next year must be less than 99% of the previous years revenue. Now, that doesn't get rid of all the old debt. Nor does it determine the means for reaching that number (could be budget cuts, tax increases, whatever). It is simply the first step. It would be like cutting up the credit cards as a first step in getting your own personal finances in shape. But the government would almost never do something this simple because it would be too easy to track when the government didn't stick with it.

The second event was an article I read in the January 12 edition of Time. The point of the article is that with the economic problems that have gripped America, it has become obvious that many Americans do not understand personal finances. The article asks how we can educate our children so they do not make some of the same stupid financial mistakes of the previous generation? The answer: The government is sending out new curriculum to be used in our schools. (This is when you must fall down, lay on the ground, and laugh til it hurts.) The government, massively in debt, unable to stick to a budget, and proposing new expensive legislation in the midst of a "financial crisis", wants to teach children how to handle their money!

No matter where you stand politically, the way our national government has dealt with our money for many years goes beyond ridiculous. Yes, many families are in dire straits because of stupid financial decisions. Only, they don't have the luxury of raising taxes or borrowing from China. The gall of the government believing it is in any position to give financial advice. It is a drowning man claiming to be an expert swimmer.

Post Script: In the article about children needing financial education the word "parents" was never mentioned.

March 9, 2010

Revival Series

In early January I began a series of sermons on revival. Unfortunately, not all of them were recorded as we were still in the midst of working on sound equipment at the new building. But over the next week or two I will post all that were recorded.

I have received great response to this series. This makes me a little wary of putting it on the web. This series was not meant simply to be listened to. Rather it is something I was asking people at church to participate in. It is that participation, much more than the sermons, that has led to numerous personal revivals. So let us give credit where credit is due. God and people do the work together. I am just a pencil in God's hand.

Revival 01.10.10_Damon Parker.mp3

February 20, 2010

Tawdry Tiger

Over the past few weeks several people have asked me what I think about the whole Tiger Woods drama. Most, I think, were asking me as a sports fan. A couple, I believe, asked me as a minister who thinks about such things. I want to write about it from both perspectives.

As a sports fan you must somewhat suspend your disbelief. It's like going to a movie about aliens invading the earth. Even though we have zero proof of life on a distant world, you choose to believe for a couple of hours to enjoy the movie. Same goes for sports. If you root for a favorite team, inevitably they will employ an idiot. So what do you do? Only root for teams with players whose morals fit you? You would have to give up sports.

However, golf is different. It's an individual sport. Rather than rooting for laundry you actually must root for a person. But how many people root for a person based on who they really are? Maybe if your cousin plays professional golf. Otherwise, you are rooting for people you really don't know. So you can root against Tiger because of what you now know about him, but you risk rooting for other players who may be involved in the same kind of stuff, you just don't know it.

But there is obviously more to this than sports. This scandal says something about our strange relationship with sex in this country. Here are just a few things I think it might show us.

1. Most of America seems to have no idea what to think about sex. We live in a country that sells sex left and right. There is a massive industry feeding people's bizarre interest in the sex lives of the rich and famous. Girls in swimsuits sell beer. And cars. And hot wings. Yet, we all act utterly offended when someone famous cheats on their wife. Why? They are just fitting into the mass marketing culture of which they are a vital part.

2. Our double standards are incredible. I heard a famous sports writer say that the demographic that Tiger and golf must win back is women. He stated simply that women are the group most offended by Tiger's behavior. Again, why? I understand being upset that Tiger cheated on his wife. In fact he did it numerous times. All with women! Sure Tiger betrayed a woman. 15 women also betrayed her. Is he a louse? Absolutely. But let's not pretend this is a male issue. It always takes two to tango.

3. There is actually way more to this than sex. While Tiger may in fact be a sex addict, his conduct is very similar to something we have seen over the past several years involving athletes, movie stars and politicians. Those with power or especially wealth and talent, are treated like they can do no wrong. Young athletes with amazing potential are given millions of dollars before they accomplish anything. People glob onto them hoping to cash in on this wealth and fame. When that athlete or movie star does something untoward, those around them do not confront them. You don't take a shot at the golden goose. So these people get used to having whatever they want. No one tells them no. The rules don't apply to them. So, why would getting married suddenly make them accept the rules. The time when we develop integrity isn't just when we are a child. It is those years when we first hold a job, or have to make our way in the world on our own. If during that time the rules don't apply, you develop the notion that the rules will never apply. Perhaps rather than looking jealously on those who achieve wealth and fame at an early age, we should remember the massive risk to the soul and spirit that comes with that territory.

January 18, 2010

Kids Say the Darndest Things

With five kids in the house (four who are talking, and that pretty much non-stop) I am constantly bombarded with odd requests, regaled with stories that go nowhere, and questioned like I am the lead suspect in a mass killing. It is overwhelming some days.

But every once in awhile it pays off with either a moment of amazing grace or absolute hilarity.

Logan (our four year old) was bent over our three month old daughter Savannah. As she cooed and looked up at him he said, "Hey Savannah. Do you see me?" Then as she turned to look at him he screeched at her, "Look into the eye of the tiger!"

As a fan of both Rocky and Survivor (the musical group) I couldn't be more proud.

January 12, 2010

Lunacy of Language (part 1)

I care about words. It's part of my job and who I am. I wouldn't be preaching if I didn't think that just the right word, delivered in the right way, at just the right time, can make a gigantic difference in someones life. So I pay attention to words and how we use them.

Which is why I am continually frustrated by how those in governmental authority use words. Words seem to no longer mean much beyond the political/rhetorical possibilities they provide. It is not that those in power or seeking power lie (although they sometimes do). It is that they are allowed to bend language to their own ends and are rarely called on the carpet for it. Somewhere Daniel Webster is weeping.

So let me start with a simple example: "Too big to fail." Read this from the New York times in 2008: “Some institutions really are too big to fail, and that’s the way it is,” said Douglas W. Elmendorf, a former Treasury and Federal Reserve Board economist who is now at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

This phrase has been used over the past year and a half by economists and politicians from various political leanings. In that parlance it means that some companies are so vital to the U.S. economy that they cannot be allowed to go under. For instance GM is just too big and important to allow it to crumble, so we must spend billions of dollars in taxpayer money to make sure it survives.

First, look at the language. It logically makes no sense. Can something honestly be "too big to fail". Does a fourth grade teacher turn in her grades and say, "You know, Jimmy didn't do the work, and he can't read, but he's just so large I can't fail him." If this were an actual truth, then there would be no show like "The Biggest Loser." Being big would be the goal in life. But logically we know this makes no sense. So the politicians and economists begin with an illogical statement. But it doesn't end there.

Once the illogical grammar is accepted, then the real insanity can begin as the phrase can now be used as "reasoning" for all sorts of stupidity. So a car company is "too big to fail". Using that logic means that if any business gets large enough, it doesn't have to worry about turning a profit, producing quality goods, or satisfying customers. It simply needs to be really big.

If "too big to fail" is true, then even if today I invent a means of beaming people from one place to another (think Star Trek) and pull it off in a way that is affordable for everyone, we would still need to support GM. Think of all the companies and businesses that have disappeared over time because something better came along. Imagine if we kept dragging them with us because they are "too big to fail." We would still have companies producing stagecoaches, milkmen running around every morning, and blacksmith shoppes.

And what about all the companies that are not too big to fail. Imagine trying to compete with a business that is much larger, has more resources, and can't lose. You could make a better product that people wanted more and was cheaper. All the "too big to fail" company would need to do is drop their price so low and drive you out of the market. They can do it because even if they lose so much money they should be bankrupt, the government will save them.

So in reality, "too big to fail" makes no sense. And that should be obvious. So it must be rhetoric to cover up the true motive for wanting to bail out these companies.
Why not just tell the truth? "We are afraid of the backlash of this many unionized workers losing their jobs," might be what some politicians are thinking. Or perhaps they just feel real sympathy for all the families who would be effected by the massive job losses that would come from the demise of a large company like GM.

Who knows what the real motives are. And we will never know as long as we allow those in authority to use this kind of language. Just give us the straight dope please.