Keeping up with The Jones

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Last night I accidentally pushed the panic button on the key of the car I was getting ready to drive. It got me thinking, why do they even put these panic buttons on these things? Or car alarms at all for that matter?

Is any potential thief or assailant scared off by the noise? Has anyone ever had their person or property saved by someone running out to investigate the noise? The last time you heard a car alarm, did you call 911 to report a potential crime in progress?

The fact of the matter is these alarms long ago became the boy who cried wolf. The sound brings far more annoyance than concern. I remember in New Bedford we had a soldier whose car alarm seemingly went off every time she was at the corps, and she would walk towards the nearest wall pressing her button until the noise stopped. Never – not once – did she go outside to check if someone was messing with her car.

So the next time you’re in a dark parking lot, and a stranger menacingly approaches you, I hope you have a back-up plan.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

You can do it. We can help.

One thing (among many) that I can’t do without considerable help is make a key. I realize that this is largely an equipment based problem, but there’s also some basic skills knowledge that I am lacking. Needing copies of my house keys, I went with Captain Steve to Home Depot yesterday to pick up some things for the corps.

I don’t spend a lot of time in Home Depot. I’m just not that guy. I went once with Uncle Clark to get an electrical adaptor and once with my friend Nicole to get some supplies for remodeling a teen center, but that’s about it. When I walk in, I’m overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things I don’t remotely recognize or understand.

I eventually found my way to the key counter but there was no employee present. I was pretty sure this wasn’t a do-it-yourself counter, and again, it’s not like I’d know what I was doing anyway. So I started looking for an orange apron.

Directly across from the key counter I found one who told me he’d take care of it. But then he hopped on one of those beeping go-cart/forklift contraptions and disappeared. I looked around and saw no more orange aprons in my vicinity. So I tried standing at the counter in an “I’m a customer in need of assistance” kind of way, hoping maybe someone would be checking. No luck. Another orange apron hurriedly walked by and when I got his attention he assured me he’d send someone to take care of it. The look on his face told me that he had more pressing concerns. Yet another orange apron wandered into my section helping another customer. I got his attention, hoping when he was done he could help me, or at least tell me he’d get someone and then not do it.

Finally a customer a bit less patient came up behind me and asked if I could make him a key. I assume he thought I was an employee, despite my lacking an orange apron, but either way we’ve already covered that I couldn’t help him. So he went and got the guy who had been helping someone else and got him to come over.

I normally only use the top lock on my door, but keys are cheap enough and I’d gone to enough trouble that I went ahead and made copies of both keys. And then I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

I went home to test the keys, and of course, the one for the bottom lock didn’t even work. But there’s no way I’m going back for $1.25 or a key I don’t really need. So congratulations, Home Depot. You’ve made an extra dollar by making my shopping experience so difficult that I won’t come back.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Find it if you can

Today I actually caught the 3:30 ferry to Manhattan to stand kettles. On the train to the ferry I was reminded that sometimes laziness pays off. As we pulled into St. George (last stop) many folks got ready to get off. I was in a bit of a daze and just sat waiting. When the train came to a complete stop, nearly everyone jumped up to get out the door first, but I was still zoning. A second later the train lurched forward again, having stopped prematurely. Catching the passengers completely off guard, they all went flying backwards while I finally snapped out of my stupor and watched, at first bemused but quickly amused and still firmly and comfortably seated. One terribly embarrassed girl flew into some guy’s lap and spent the rest of the time before the doors opened alternating between apologizing profusely to him and telling her friend to stop laughing so hard.

Another benefit to this laziness, besides not landing on a stranger, is that it can easily be disguised as patience, making me seem more virtuous. It makes me wonder how many people who seem patient are really just too tired to be pushy like everyone else.

Mom would be proud

I cleaned my bathroom today. It had been a while. We’re not talking gas station quality or anything, but it needed the cleaning. I just happen to have the unfortunate combination of not caring much about cleaning and not having many folks over who might care themselves. That’s about to change though, since starting Friday I’ll be having a guest for a few weeks, an intern from Project 117. The size (or more accurately, the lack thereof) of my apartment will be daunting enough, so I figured I should at least get the place cleaned up a bit.

This points to a big part of why I appreciate the idea of spiritual accountability. If we only ever answer to ourselves we can get comfortable in our own filth. Living right isn’t just about personal desire; I like the idea of a clean bathroom, but sometimes it’s easier to overlook the problem than address it. And accountability isn’t about doing something just to impress someone else. It’s about perspective. It’s too easy for us to become desensitized to our own surroundings, behavior and attitudes. Often it’s only when we take a step back and look at things from someone else’s perspective that we see the unfortunate consequences of our failure to hit on target.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

I spent the last few days at one of my favorite places in all the world, my Aunt Betty’s house. Last year on my birthday I referred to it as a place where I’m pretty much always treated like it’s my birthday, but a similar contention could be made that it’s a very Thanksgivingy place: there’s always plenty of good food, hardly a waking hour goes by when a game isn’t being watched or (more likely) played, and you’re with people you care about. All these factors increase when it actually is Thanksgiving. For instance:

*Baked Goods Available*

Apple Squares
Pecan Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Tarheel Pie
Lemon cake
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Peanut Butter Pie
Banana Cream Pie
Chocolate Pie
Brownies (okay, these weren’t actually available till two days after Thanksgiving, but still)

*People I care about that I hadn’t seen in a while, how long it had been since I’d seen them, and how long it had been since I’d gone that long without seeing them*

Mom, Dad, Shannon – 2 months – um, that’s pretty standard actually
Steve Maxon – 3 months – at least 2 years
Frannie – 4 months – at least 3 years
Aunt Betty, Uncle Clark – 5 months – 3 years (I think)
Matt and Hilary – 6 months – I’ve only really known Hil a little over a year, so she can’t really count, but that is the longest I’ve gone in my entire life without seeing my brother. I know I’m blessed to be able to say that. And it was good to see everyone.

And all hail the Lord of Catan!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Don't leave home without it

Today I went back to the Manhattan terminal to stand kettles again. When I got to the Staten Island terminal, all ready to catch the 3:30 boat, I realized I had forgotten to bring a copy of our permit. My choices at this point were three-fold:
1) Take the boat to Manhattan without it and hope security doesn’t ask me about it. This is the quickest but riskiest option, because I’d catch the 3:30 but might have to come right back.
2) Take the train all the way back to Stapleton to get the permit. This is the slowest option and really is only viable if no one is available for #3.
3) Get someone to bring me a copy in time to at least catch the 3:50 boat.

I decided not to risk #1 and got Steve to come bring me the permit. He got it to me in time to catch the 3:50, but I still needed to get the wheeling kettle stand out of the locked closet. Now I couldn’t find anyone to let me in. We’re not supposed to ask security as they have far more pressing concerns. The only terminal employee I could find was a woman sweeping up who spoke no English. I tried to figure which would be quicker: finding another employee myself or finding a way to communicate what I needed to this one. My first thought was the former, but soon realized the latter, or at least a compromise, was my only hope.

There was a time when I was actually functional speaking Spanish. Not fluent, mind you, but I could communicate and even converse a little. Five years of complete nonuse have left me more than a bit rusty.

Es un otra persona que limpia y habla ingles?

Good enough. She pointed me to the person I needed, who made sure I got the stand. Muchas gracias Senora.

So I caught the 4:10. We’ll have to work on that one. Tonight was relatively uneventful, but there was one exchange that brought a smile to my face.

A friendly young lady with a pleasant smile made a donation and I thanked her and wished her a Happy Thanksgiving. She seemed quite pleased with this and walked away. Then she came back around my other side and popped up right in front of me.

“Could you say ‘Happy Birthday’ too, because tomorrow’s my birthday.”

Happy Birthday!

Oh, and no one ever asked me for that permit.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Congratulations, but...

Tonight LaDainian Tomlinson scored his 100th career touchdown, doing so faster than any other player in history. Which reminds me…

Last night I was having a phone conversation with the folks when the topic turned to football (much to Mom’s chagrin). Dad and I were talking about the Chargers when he made a comment about “how well LT is playing.” Then, uncharacteristically, Mom chimed in:

“Lawrence Taylor is playing for another team now?”

Thank you! Boy, even my Mom knows who the real LT is: the most fearsome defensive player of all time who single-handedly defined being a Giants fan for my generation, Lawrence Taylor.

LaDainian is a surefire future Hall of Famer. He is arguable the best player in the game today. He is certainly one of my favorites. He may very well set a new record for touchdowns in a season this year. He has four touchdowns tonight, which gives him nineteen in his last six games, which is yet another record.

But he is not LT.

Mom and I just felt a need to clear that up.

Friday, November 17, 2006

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Today I stood collecting at a kettle stand for the first time this season. First off, here’s the early count this year on a couple of my favorite recurring comments:

“Where’s your Santa suit?” – 3
“You guys are starting early this year.” – 2

I was standing in the Staten Island ferry terminal, Manhattan side. This meant I got to ride the ferry going and coming, which is usually a nice ride and you never know what kind of people you’ll run into. On the way over, I met two Salvationists, Commissioners from the Congo, which was quite random and pretty cool. On the way back, there was a young woman who wanted to take my picture (and this despite no Santa suit, although I was in full uniform with our wheeling kettle stand).

Standing in the ferry terminal is slightly more entertaining than your normal store location. This is primarily due to the commuters coming up from the train periodically breaking into the “Aagghh! The doors to the boat are already open and could close any second!” sprint (note: this is highly amusing, but not very good for business, because there’s no way those people are slowing down to make a donation). Actually, this phenomenon kind of happens in stages. The first wave to come up the escalator after the doors open breaks into a jog, the group behind sees this and starts running, and each group after sees the group in front and runs even faster. By the end you’ve got people who clearly don’t do a lot of running and didn’t exactly dress for it hurtling themselves across the terminal. Eventually the doors close and things calm down until the next boat arrives.

My favorite was a little old man in the first wave of one door-opening who clearly had no intention of running pointing from across the terminal and calling out to no one in particular, “Hold that door! Wait for me!” Luckily he was in no danger of actually missing the boat.

Tonight’s conversations included the normal assortment of supportive believers, thankful veterans, and conspiracy theorists. But the most noteworthy conversation of the evening was with a woman who wanted to know if I had any printed materials. I informed her that I did not, but offered to answer any questions.

“It’s about your cards. It’s just that their kind of crappy….”

(Cards? What cards? Maybe the Manhattan Salv…oh wait, she’s still talking.)

“I mean it’s a nice idea to help out but they break every Catholic rule, and I’m not even Catholic….”

(Um… neither am I. I mean we. We’re… oh wait, there’s more.)

“Are you German?”


“What nationality are you?”

Uh, just American.

“Oh, that explains it. I’m European.”

Glad I could help.


Need I say more? Okay, I will.

Today I had a fluffernutter for lunch. This would be excellent news in and of itself, but this one tasted particularly delicious for a couple reasons. First, it was the first fluffernutter I’ve had in at least two years. Second, and far more important, this one was sort of a surprise gift. Aaron, our Youth Ministries Specialist, has a lunch packed for him everyday by his loving wife Wanessa. Well, it turns out she was feeling a little bad for me because I don’t have a Mom (well I do but not here) or a girlfriend to make me a lunch. So today she sent him with an extra sandwich for me, which kind of made my day. So thanks Wanessa.

While we’re on the topic of fluff, here are a couple of handy baking tips:

* Did you know that a jar of fluff comes with a tasty recipe for fudge written on the side? – It’s true; my brother and I once bought a jar and used it to make a batch for a care package for our sister.

* Did you know that marshmallow fluff will expand significantly when heated, so you wouldn’t want to use a pot just big enough for the ingredients when making this fudge? – We didn’t.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

I never thought they'd catch me so quickly

A mere two hours after yesterday’s post I was pulled over by the police on my way home. Thankfully, they don’t arrest you for driving with a burnt out headlight. Actually if my experience is any indication, they hand you a ticket while explaining several times in a most friendly manner how you can get out of it.

Following my instructions from last night I got the headlight fixed this morning and then brought the receipt for the transaction down to my local police precinct. I recapped what I had been told: fix within 24 hours, bring in receipt, pay no fine.

“I also need to see the vehicle.”

Oh. Do people really falsify receipts for a ten minute, $20 procedure? Anyway, it’s impossible to find parking in that area so now I had to walk all the way back to where my car was parked (giving the officer more than enough time to forget about me) and drive it over and double park right in front of the police station, blocking a cruiser even. But I got my signed form that says I pay no money, and escaped without receiving another parking violation.

So for those of you keeping score at home, in 4 ½ months living in Staten Island I’ve received 4 parking/moving violations and paid exactly $0 in fines. I don’t know whether to be happy or annoyed; mostly I’m just confused. I mean, why do they even write these things? Does anyone pay them? And they can’t possibly keep this up, can they? Can I?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Yes, I can see the resemblance...

Today a boy I hadn't seen at the court in quite some time asked me where Dirk Nowitzki's brother was. He was quite disappointed when I had to inform him that the younger Nowitzki doesn't live here, but in Syracuse and was just visiting before.

Actually, I just found out yesterday that come August he will abandon the home we shared and take a two year clerkship with the Appellate Division in Rochester. I knew eventually he’d get back on his feet.

He better not go too far. If I ever get arrested, he’s my one phone call.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Never judge a box by its cover

Today I went into my favorite neighborhood Spanish supermarket (ShopSmart on Broad) to pick up some milk and discount brand cereal. My preferred cereal is Krasdale’s Honey Nut Toasted Oats. I’m a big fan of discount brands, with their no frills and low price approach. In fact, I’m practically the definition of their target market: I don’t care if there’s a certain cartoon bee on my box, but I’ll gladly take a cereal that tastes exactly the same for half the price.

Today I noticed my lowly discount cereal is moving on up in the world; they’ve got new box cover art. The new cover looks more like the “real” cheerios box, yellow with a more professional looking font and picture of a delicious bowl of cereal, and is certainly more attractive than the old black box with its poorly drawn cartoon children. But it’s a cosmetic change only: qualitatively and quantitatively, it’s the same cereal.

Same name. Same number of ounces. Same dietary information. Same ingredients in the exact same order.

Oh, and it costs more.

Krasdale, I’m very, very disappointed in you.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Mail Time (again)

This time it’s the New York City Department of Finance’s turn. Last week I got a notice in the mail explaining that I owed $75 for an unpaid mutilated inspection sticker ticket. This was very interesting to me, for reasons that I will explain with a handy timeline:

Early August 2006 – I send in my registration renewal form (exp Aug 25), updating my address, along with the payment.

Late August 2006 – I receive a notice that it will cost more money to renew my registration, since I now live in NYC, where everything has to cost more. They enclose a temporary registration to hold me over until I give them more money for a real one. I display this temporary registration in my vehicle.

September 2006 – I go about two weeks without touching my car. It needs some repairs and I walk everywhere anyway.

Late September 2006 – During which time my car gets a ticket (actually two, but I only notice one) for expired registration. By now my new registration has come and is displayed, but I have to go fight the ticket. I go in, plead my case, and it is dismissed. Hey, the system works (I think).

September 29, 2006 – I bring my car in for those repairs so it will pass inspection, and get a new inspection sticker.

October 5, 2006 – I realize I had two tickets, so I go back in to see if I need another hearing. Nope, they were both dismissed….but at this time they inform me that I had yet another ticket in September for a mutilated inspection sticker. This poses a slight problem, as I no longer even have that sticker on my car to prove it’s not mutilated. I plead my case, and it’s dismissed again. I must have an honest face. The judge tells me to hang on to all my paperwork for 8 ½ years(!) in case anything goes wrong. What’s going to go wrong?

Last week – Oh. I get that notice saying I haven’t paid a ticket I had dismissed a month ago. This should be easy to sort out. It hasn’t been 8 ½ years yet, so I still have that paperwork.

Today – I figure out what went wrong. The judge dismissed my mutilated inspection sticker, but gave me a paper that said he dismissed my expired registration sticker (which had already been dismissed). The dates and violation numbers seem to reflect this clearly, but people who push paper for a living often turn out to be mindless automatons.

(Case in point: In 2004 I tried to change my license from MA to NY. NY has a rule that an out of state license must be issued more than 6 months ago before they will change it over. Mass licenses don’t (didn’t?) have a date of issue on them. No problem: my license was set to expire in a month, meaning it must be more than 6 months old, right? Even more convincingly, my license said “under 21 until 9/23/99” meaning it must have been issued before this date nearly five years previous. Raise your hand if you think this ironclad logic was enough to convince the clerk at the first DMV I went to. Luckily there are more DMV’s, some of which even staff people who can think independently. The point is it’s a crapshoot.)

This is where my tale of frustration took an unexpected turn. The woman who looked at my paperwork actually listened and immediately understood the problem. They put me on the express hearing line (express?! I didn’t even know there was such a thing. I’m going to find it hard to wait in the normal line now). The judge who had previously heard my case clarified the situation, took complete responsibility and apologized profusely at least a dozen times (no exaggeration) in the five minutes (probably less) I was in with him. It was probably the most human experience I have ever had in a government building.

I say all this because I hate bureaucracy (in case you couldn’t tell). One of my biggest fears is how it can creep into our church. We say each person is God’s beloved child, and then we treat them like a number on a list on a form in a drawer (and it’s been misfiled). Days like today can be such important reminders to me that so often the message is not in our words, but in the way we treat others.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Need a hand

I've been thinking lately about something that came up recently in a Sunday School class. The discussion was about how we can help God. This immediately struck me as odd, because to me helping only seems truly possible when someone needs help, which God clearly does not. The image that jumped to my mind was that of a young child "helping" his mother bake cookies. Or how whenever you're trying to carry something heavy the smallest child will walk underneath to "help" lift the load. Their contributions are minimal, it would probably be easier to do it without them, and if not for the fact that someone else had the ability to accomplish the task it would be impossible.

And so it is with God, since his foolishness is wiser than our wisdom, and his weakness is stronger than our strength. And we profess constantly that it is only in God’s strength that we can do anything. So if we are helping God, it is he who helps us help him. Doesn’t seem very helpful.

And yet, God chooses to use us. Why? Certainly not because he needs help, or that we can even begin to do anything that he couldn’t instantly do himself. And certainly God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. So God calls us and entrusts us with great responsibility, and just because God doesn’t need us doesn’t mean we’re off the hook.

We talked in Bible Study tonight about Abraham and why God chose him. One suggestion was that God knew his willing response in advance. Which raised the question: what if Abraham had said no? Would God have called someone else? For the salvation of the entire world you’d have to say yes. But what about your neighbor? If you don’t bring them God’s truth and love, will anyone else?

I know each individual must ultimately make their own choice for salvation. And I think our service to God is as much about our own salvation as anyone else’s. But the fact remains that there is a world in darkness and we have been given the light. Where there is light, the darkness flees. Shine.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mail Time

Guess what I found in my mailbox last night when I got home: my phone bill!! And while getting a bill in the mail might register apathy or even distaste for you, this represented a big breakthrough for me and verizon. Allow me explain with a timeline:

Late June 2006 – I give Maxon money for the bill I know will arrive in Syracuse shortly after my move and instructions to fill out the change of address form when sending it in.

July 2006 – Maxon pays the bill and fills out the standard change of address form found on the back of all verizon wireless bills.

August 2006 – My bill arrives in Syracuse, leaving me to wonder what that form on the back is for exactly. No matter, I make the change to my profile online. Everything is quicker, easier, and more efficient online.

September 2006 – Except this. My bill arrives in Syracuse, and now I’m stumped. I double check my account online – it reflects the correct address. So why is my bill going somewhere else?

October 2006 – I finally get around to going down to the mall to handle this once and for all with a verizon employee on an official verizon computer. Foolproof. I explain the problem and the steps I’ve already taken. She brings my profile up on her screen.

“The address in this profile has already been changed.”

Yes I know. I just told you that I’m the one who changed it.

“So where is your bill being sent.”

Not there.

“Well the computer won’t let me change anything else.”

So you can’t help me? At all?

“No. But you can call customer service.”


Later that same day – The dreaded call to the automated voice menu.

“Please enter your five digit billing zip code.”

I enter XXXXX, my old zip code, since that is where I’m currently being billed.

“There should be ten digits in your ten digit wireless number. Please enter your ten digit wireless number, starting with the area code, now.”

I could have sworn they said zip code. No matter. XXX-XXX-XXXX.

“Thank you. Now please enter your five digit billing zip code.”

Okay. XXXXX.

“There should be ten digits in your ten digit wireless number. Please enter your ten digit wireless number, starting with the area code, now.”

What!?!? Fine, XXX-XXX-XXXX.

“Thank you. Now please enter your five digit billing zip code.”

(Losing all hope) XXXXX.

“There should be ten digits in your ten digit wireless number. Please enter your ten digit wireless number, starting with the area code, now.”


Still later that same day – I’m not done. I will get them this information that almost benefits them more than it does me if it’s the last thing I do. I get an actual person on the phone and she tells me she's fixed it. Half of me is relieved, the other half thinks I’ll believe it when I see it.

Yesterday – I believe! I believe! Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in saluting verizon: only 4 months and 5 attempts through every avenue made available to their valued customers to perform the most basic of tasks that was in their best interest anyway! Verizon! It’s the network!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

A Jones by any other name

In my continued search for a profile pic (I know, riveting stuff), I decided to google myself. Here were some of the results, in descending order of how likely it is that it is actually me:

An extremely common last name and a fairly common first name makes for a combination that I know is not unique. I like to think of myself as the one and only, or at least the real Joshua Jones, but I know there are others (imposters).

For one thing, any time I try to open a new email account, no possible combination or arrangement of my name will work without a number. I’ve tried a million times with several email accounts but always come back to good old 17. But more convincingly, I met one once.

When I was eleven, my mom let me help out in the Candy Store at Camp Connri. Each camper would walk up, hand me their card with their name and cash amount on it, tell me what they wanted, and I would get it for them and cross off the cost from the card. One day, a boy approached the window and handed me his card with my name on it. There we were, face to face, and I was dumbfounded. I wonder if any of those pictures are him.

Even more bizarre, at the exact same time at the very next window over from that boy was another boy, a complete stranger to him. His name: Matthew Jones. And I’m reasonably certain I didn’t dream all this.

Monday, November 06, 2006


I was looking through some photos trying to find one for my profile when I stumbled across this:

And since you asked, yes, that is a picture of my brother Matt stalking a rooster through a Bermudan cemetery. Why? Because I asked him to.

I had a bizarre desire to capture him up close in a picture with one of the many randomly free roaming birds. This was not the only rooster he pursued, though we were consistently thwarted. Despite some reluctance (he clearly didn't share my passion), he kept trying to help me outmaneuver my foe. Be it a whimsical fancy or an urgent need, there are few people you can count on like a brother.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Old Time Religion

In lieu of our normal Sunday Evening Praise, we went down the street for a special service at the UAME church this evening. We’re trying to partner with other neighborhood churches when possible to build up the Body in our community.

They had a choir from a women’s recovery home singing and testifying, and it was a real blessing. On the whole, there was really only one downside to the whole evening: they had old-school wooden pews.

You know the kind I’m talking about. The kind that seem specially designed to focus maximum discomfort on your middle back and rear. The kind where you can’t get comfortable no matter which way you shift. The kind that make you yearn for the next congregational standing.

They are from another time, a time when the church itself was considerably more stringent. I don’t doubt that they were originally designed to help us experience some small part of the suffering of Christ. And while many will argue that in the name of avoiding legalism the church has relaxed some of its standards to its detriment, the move to slightly more comfortable seating is one I consider essential. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for not getting too comfortable and staying focused; I’m not asking for a La-Z-Boy. I just like a chair that lets me focus on something more divine than my own backside.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Professor Zoom

It only took us a few weeks to go from 3 yards and a cloud of dust to the Arena Football League. We only had enough guys for 7 on 7 this time, as opposed to 10 on 10 last time, so there were just a lot fewer collisions. Whereas last time we played a game to 7 and almost killed ourselves, this time we played to 10 and still felt great so we kept playing to 15 (and still felt okay). Best of all, this enabled almost everyone to score (the only guy who didn’t actually led everyone in catches and first downs).

As for the title of the post, it’s a nickname one of the teens gave me last time we played and some of the guys were calling me today. It definitely cracks me up, but I doubt it will stick long. The only nickname I’ve ever had for a substantial time was Bob (and that was less a nickname and more a sustained bizarrely coincidental mass confusion).

Those who know me well know that I love the idea of nicknames. It’s a relational thing. It reflects a certain bond when you let someone call you something other than the name your own parents gave you. Actually, one thing we often focus on in the teen drop-in center is giving everyone nicknames to foster that sense of belonging.

Looking to the scriptures, we see this same relational significance in renaming. Abraham, Sarah, Israel. None were names from birth but each was given by the Lord himself as a sign of the relationships and encounters between them. They belonged to Him, and He had their backs. And I’ll confess, I’m a bit envious. I mean, how cool would it be to get a nickname from God?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Am I ready for some football?

I hope so.

Tomorrow there is a big tackle football game, the second in an ongoing series of games with the men and teens of our corps. The last game was several weeks ago, and it amazes me that in my teen years I would often play several such games per week. I don't have anywhere near that kind of recovery anymore. Don't get me wrong, I can still play. The risk of injury is just far more apparent to me than it ever was before.

But I still love football, above all others. Growing up, my dad taught me everything I know about sports. But the bias toward football was definitely there. I remember one time when I was quite young my dad and I played one on one hoops on a kiddie hoop in our basement. And my dad kept blocking all my shots! Goaltending, even! I'm not exaggerating when I tell you it took me about ten years to get into basketball after that. Football was different. My dad would teach me all kinds of pass patterns and audibles and let me beat him one on one at two hand touch. We even have a play we run to this day that we mapped out in my back yard when I was 8 or 9. I'd tell you what it is but we might have to use it to beat you someday.

Tomorrow should be fun. Our first game had great turn out, was hard fought, everyone had fun, and the old men showed the young guns they could beat them. Most importantly, it was a great chance for all our guys to bond, and church attendance has actually increased since that game. Most of the men have conflicts tomorrow, so I may be the lone old guy with the teens. In this regard I'll have to draw inspiration from my dad as well, who has routinely found himself as the oldest guy on the field over the last ten years. I can only hope to keep playing, and playing very well, as long as he has.

Just in case, say a prayer for us between noon and 3.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Deal or No Brains


I would love to know what the screening process for Deal or No Deal is like. They certainly find some interesting characters and it can make for riveting television. But there's one word I would add to the list that ties them all together.


Absolutely, positively, 100% devoid of logic. Borderline insane. No understanding of probability or opportunity cost. Sometimes they say things that make my head want to explode. (My apologies if anyone reading has a family member who has been on the show).

Again, I understand that a mathematician coolly calculating his odds and simply maximizing his potential winnings would not make for a very entertaining TV show. And I don't doubt that the bright lights and cameras and crowds turn people a bit goofy. But just once I would love to hear a contestant offer up a decision based on something more substantial than, "I'm feeling number 24 Howie! Number 24! I've got a feeling!"

I've thought about trying to get on the show or maybe having my brother and his math degree go. But I'm pretty sure we couldn't fake the hysterics to make it past the cut.

Dot What

Today I met a charming young lady who needed some information from me. She gave me her email address which ended I had never seen this particular suffix before and I was curious so I asked.

"Phillip Morris. I work for Marlboro."


"Yeah, we're not the most popular company right now."

Now let me be clear about a few things here. First off, I think smoking is terrible, for all the obvious reasons. And I could never work for a such a company because I wouldn't be able to reconcile this with my convictions.

Having said that, I think the lawsuits against these companies are laughable. I also don't think people who work for these companies are any more morally responsible than the corner store clerk that sells the cigarrettes, and we don't vilify them.

But the fact remains that these companies have taken a huge PR hit. There are some pretty aggressive ad campaigns with them in the crosshairs (although I really enjoy the Phillip Morris produced anti-tobacco ads. Almost as funny as the comercials that come on during televised poker where some casino guy tells you, "There are some times when you shouldn't gamble." Yeah, right.). The executives have been portrayed as outright murderous pariahs (justifiably so in many cases).

I don't say all this to bash the woman in question. She seems like a nice enough person. I'm just saying that if I had to give my email to a total stranger for non-work related matters, I think I would have a back-up. Something that didn't sound like

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sticks and Stones

Today I was called a hypocrite, and accused of treating people as though they were inferior. Those are the kind of words that can sting, even when you're pretty sure they're baseless. I tried to respectfully explain why the situation had developed, but my accuser was not really interested in what I had to say, and was perfectly content to continue with his ad hominem.

"Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." - Matthew 20:25-28

It can be easy to serve people who are nice to us and grateful for what we do. It gives that warm fuzzy feeling and makes us think we're good people. But I think in those cases Christ would tell us that we've pretty much already received our reward in full. Too often when those we serve complain or are difficult we become indignant and miss the simple reality that these are the opportunities for true service.

I know it may be fruitless, but I'd like to talk with that man again, to let him know I don't have all the answers. And if he's got a solution we haven't thought of, we'd love to listen.