Friday, December 14, 2007

Illuminating the Good News

I'm in the process of cleaning out my Yahoo!Mail inbox, an annual ritual. Fortunately, I only have 670 or so e-mails to rummage through this year, down from the more than 1,200 I went through last year. It may seem like a mundane task, but I actually enjoy reading old correspondence from family and friends. And occasionally I even run across a forgotten jewel, like the e-mail I sent to some family and close friends back in May 2005:

Have you ever wondered how Jesus was able to pare down
the entire Law of Moses to two all-encompasing
commands? Read Deuteronomy 30. Just the headings in
the NIV say a lot about the message, "Prosperity After
Turning to the Lord" and "The Offer of Life and

What I got from reading this chapter tonight is that
the law was ALWAYS about loving God, turning to Him
and relying on Him only. Legalistic people will try
and persuade you otherwise. They want to focus on the
"if you obey" parts instead of "the Lord your God
will" parts. Legalistic people always want to make it
about themselves instead of about God.

In verse six, it says the Lord will "circumcise your that you may love him...and live." The
whole point of the Law of Moses and the Gospel of
Jesus is to give life. Does that mean some mystical,
hereafter existence in a place called heaven? Look at
verse 20.

The very last line of the chapter makes it clear that
God will "give you many years in the land he swore to
give your fathers." In other words, the life will be
given here on earth. Its not just for the mysterious

When Jesus says he came to fulfill the Law, that means
he came to make that life possible for everyone, not
just a chosen few. He says that life is attainable if
we'll just love God with our whole being and love
others as ourselves.

I've been guilty for most of my adult life of looking
back on the Old Testament through legalistic eyes. I
thought it was the obedience that brought life, not
the grace of God. I also saw the New Testament through
legalistic eyes, thinking it was a "Sinless Life for
Dummies" guide. Now I understand differently.

If God is one who "gives grace to the humble," (Prov.
3:34) then he certainly must be looking for humble
people who will turn to him with all their being. That
has never changed. Deuteronomy exposes that truth as
the heart of the law. Jesus confirms it.

Grace means life, for the Jew and for the Gentile.
God's offer to humankind has always been abundant
life, in the Old Testament and the New. It comes
through relationship, not legalism, so choose life.
Love God and love others. Embrace the relational
Jesus, not some dead religion.

That e-mail must have lead my May 31, 2005 blog post, titled One Commandment. These are truths I still cling to even though I may not show it all too often. They are great reminders to me that love and humility are still key ingredients to my faith and core values to
which I should keep in the forefront of my mind. They should effect my actions more frequently.

With this being the season that focuses on the Incarnation, I thought it appropriate to once again reflect on the core message of the Gospel. The Good News is that God is Love and that love became flesh. May the Good News illuminate you this holiday season.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Commercialization of Christianity, not just Christmas

During the holidays, American consumerism reaches fever pitch as everyone rushes out to buy festively-wrapped goods. Do you think the wise men are to blame for “Black Friday?” People clamor over the latest toys and electronics for their kids, even succumbing to fisticuffs in the heat of the holiday rush. Can you imagine Mary and Joseph duking it out with patrons at the Bethlehem Inn for a place to stay??

The conquest of Christmas by consumerism is certainly not a new wave fad. Its an age old fashion in the United States. And sadly it is the by-product of the commercialization of Christianity, not just Christmas.

Just look at the state of the American church what with grand cathedrals called mega churches, home to bookstores, coffee shops, escalators and ATMs. Sorta sounds like a shopping mall, doesn’t it? There are books, DVDs, compact discs, artwork, Bibles, study guides and more available for a hefty profit…all to benefit “the ministry.” Take a second look at the lavish lifestyles of the new American pastor/CEO. I won’t delve into the scandalous Congressional inquiry of these ministers, as I think Columnist John Whitehead summed it up quite well in his recent commentary.

How did we let Christianity in America become so commercialized? There’s not a marketing solution to the problem of sin in the world. There’s just you and me, The Church.

So next time you want to rant about the commercialization of Christmas, take a look in your own church first. Has it become so “seeker sensitive” and introverted that it’s lost its missional focus? Do the people come first or the programs? And what are you doing to change it?

I don’t intend this blog entry to be a total rant, so I’ve included links below to some solutions to help combat the consumeristic approach to the holiday:

Unplugging Christmas

The Buy Nothing Movement

Help Others

Also, I found this guy’s blog an interesting take coming from a Jewish perspective.

The "me-first pandemic" has infected the church, so it is no wonder that Santa and the almighty dollar have replaced the Christ child and the true spirit of giving (i.e. putting others first). Heck, it's hard enough to find Christ or his greatest commandment at the center of what's become American Christianity over the last two centuries. Not to bah-humbug your holidays or rain on your Christmas parade, but think about this next time you're standing in a long line at 5 a.m. outside Wal-Mart or waiting with debit card in hand for your pre-liturgy latte'.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Chatard Trojans Own the Dome

Back when the football stadium in Indy was known as the Hoosier Dome, the Bishop Chatard Trojans won the inaugural high school championship. The year was 1984. It was my junior year.

The last 23 years brought about a name change to the dome, a class change for Chatard from 2A to 3A, and several inches to my waistline. But the glory of Chatard football remains.

The Trojan football team now shares the distinction with only one other team as having the most state championships--NINE!!!
I witnessed the first two of those during my sophmore and junior years at Chatard. Though I didn't play high school football, I was a proud member of the squad's 12th man.

The 1984 game was most memorable for its location, the sparkling new gem on the Indianapolis skyline, the $82 million Hoosier Dome. With memories of that game on my mind, I returned to the dome for this year's championship game. I wasn't disappointed. Save for a late fumble, the Trojans would have shut out South Bend's St. Joseph. It was total domination from the first whistle.

I had to be there to witness the last high school football championship to be played in the famed dome. Next year, retractable-roofed Lucas Oil Stadium becomes the shining new gem on Indy's skyline and the dome will be razed. The memories, however, will live on. I'm just thankful that Chatard was able to begin a legacy there in 1984 that lives on today.

Congrats to the Trojans, state champions for the ninth time, an Indiana High School Athletic Association record!

Photo credit: Joe Vitti, The Indianapolis Star, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

Conquering Caffeine

Almost 18 months ago I blogged about kicking the caffeine habit in a post titled Making Java History. While I'm not totally caffeine-free today, I am proud to report that my morning ritual now consists of 1-2 cups of half-caff coffee.

Yay me!

Now, I never was a Starbucks junkie or a member of some java cult, but I was addicted to my full-strength, morning cup o' joe. I even ventured into chickory for awhile (it's like the crack additive to coffee, dealt down in the bayou). When I drank more than a cup, I usually perspired more and sometimes felt jittery. When I missed it completely, I would get a headache. But the withdrawals were very minor.

There are some days when I forgo the coffee altogether, opting for a more health-conscious alternative, like bottled water. Those days are 50-50 on whether I make it all day without a cup of coffee, but if I falter, I always go half-decaf. Rarely ever do I drink a soft drink with caffeine, opting most often for Sprite and sometimes root beer when nothing else is available.

I post this for caffeine addicts everywhere who think its impossible to quit. If I could go cold turkey over a year ago, you can do it too.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My Ragamuffin Confessional

Brennan Manning says,

The ministry of evangelization is an extraordinary opportunity of showing gratitude to Jesus by passing on His gospel of grace to others...To evangelize a person is to say to him or her, You, too, are loved by God in the Lord Jesus. And not only to say it but to really think it and relate it to the man or woman so they can sense it. This is what it means to announce the Good News. But that becomes possible only by offering the person your friendship--a friendship that is real, unselfish, without condescension, full of confidence, and profound esteem (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p.124).

I first blogged about this last year in a rant titled A Ragamuffin Reality, but the last part of the quote struck me again just recently.

I've been discussing with some friends online what it means to be a friend, to be a Christian and to know Jesus. And while I don't pretend to have all the answers, I do think that relationships are key to experiencing and knowing God. I don't mean some fantastical relationship with an unseen deity. I believe we can find God by investigating the people around us and investing in relationship.

A relationship takes initiative, trust and the ability to listen. Too often, I'm too lazy to make the initial investment. The first step in any effort is usually the toughest for me. But once I take that step, I have to then fight through the fear of being discovered. Trust is not an easy barrier to overcome, especially when your confidence is low. And once the first two barriers are broken through, I find myself doing a lot of talking and not enough active listening.

A relationship requires that I let down my guard. Letting my guard down requires some semblance of humility. Humility proves that I don't have it all together and runs counter to my nature...but it runs right to the core of Christ's nature, who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (Paul's Epistle to the Philippians).

If only I could mirror that kind of humility in my own life.

Are you a ragamuffin like me? Do you struggle with relationships? Do you often fail at living the Good News?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Another Helping of Christianese, Please

Recent conversations over at The Ooze have reminded me what I don't miss about going to a typical church, namely "Christianese." If you've gone to church much or hung around many Christians, then you've heard Christianese. It's that secret language those people use to communicate things about God, faith and right living. I've blogged before about the bad taste it leaves in my mouth.

I guess my detoxification is complete, because when I hear Christianese now, I get that queesy when Mom broke out a new can of Chop Suey. Yum! Well, when discussions began about what Jesus wants from his followers and how one "gets to know God," I got that same sickly feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Sure, Jesus wants us to love God and love others, but when you ask most Christians what it truly means to love God, you'll get a myriad of answers. As one participant in the discussion describes it, you should go on dates with God. Of course, being the sarcastic twit that I am, I asked if God should always pick up the tab, or if his date is always responsible for 10%. (Editor's note: check out this humorous look at least I hope it was meant to be funny.)

If you can't verbalize what it means to love God without turning Billy Graham on me or resorting to some cheesy verbage from a Vacation Bible School tract, then don't bother. Christianese is like nails on a chalkboard to someone, like me, who is a recovering evangelical, pentacostal. I can hardly stand it.

Talk to me in simple, everyday terms. Make yourself plain. Get your head out of the clouds (or whatever cavity it's stuck within) and be real. You can't go on dates with an unseen deity and its quite difficult to hold a conversation with someone who doesn't talk back...well, except in your head, and those voices probably aren't the Almighty.

So what does it mean to love God? And hold the Christianese, please.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Image of God...Incarnational, Relational

I was created in the image of God.
You were created in the image of God.
That is the mystery of divine incarnation. It no more makes us gods, than having our parent’s genes makes us our parents. Still, we bear the Creator’s mark. Somehow, the finite, mortal beings that we are, carry something of the infinite and the immortal within. That should motivate us, not just to think more of ourselves, but to action.

The Good Shepherd tells us that what we do for others, even for those we might perceive to be the dregs of humanity, we in fact do for him. When we open ourselves up to one another, and stoop down to help those in need, I believe we tap into that divine spark that makes us fully human. That’s where the Image becomes relational.

Relationships serve as the building blocks with which we form communities. And in communities we again bear the mysterious mark of the Creator. The philosopher/saint/prophet Paul compares the community of Christ to a human body with many working parts. The diverse parts of the body all work together for a common good. The community of Christ, just as diverse as the human anatomy, should also work together for a common good. To build on that metaphor, I like to think of the relationships I form as some small tendon or muscle that allows one part of the body to function properly.

Unfortunately, I’m not always relationally driven or focused. Too often, I’m self-absorbed, self-serving and apathetic to the many incarnations of God all around me.
Lord, have mercy.

I know better.

I understand that I need to remain connected to my community. I grasp that building relationship requires humility, empathy, transparency and most of all action. It requires that I let down my guard and allow others to get close, real close. In return, I reap the multiple benefits that relationships bring, such as trust, understanding, empathy and a sense of connectedness or belonging. But I have to be reminded, like I was Sunday at the Dwelling Place.

As I sat amongst friends and people I hardly know, I thought about how little of myself—the divine incarnation that I am—I have allowed to be seen or known by them. I vowed to be different, to get connected, to be known.

I’ve come to realize that relational Christianity opens my mind to understanding and “knowing” God. It helps me grasp a little more fully that mystery of the incarnation. Therefore, my quest has become less about some other world spirituality and more about my earthly journey and getting to know those on the path with me. As I see the divine in them, I see a much clearer picture of what the image of God truly is.

I’m posting this on my blog and at the Dwelling Place to serve as a reminder for myself and as a declaration for my co-Dwellers.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Mudsuck Grill

There's a new sports bar/family restaurant in Noblesville, called Mudsock Grill. You can gather from the title of this post what I thought about it. Lured in by an article in the star and an online coupon for free cake (yes, I'm a sucker for chocolate cake, especially when it's preceded by the word "free"), I took my wife and youngest daughter.

Ninety minutes (seemed much longer) and $60 later, we left the place with no intention of ever going back. From the goofy restaurant logo to the safety-hazard "fire pits" (they were basically gas fireplaces in the open, fake logs and all) to the tough-as-rawhide steak, I was majorly disappointed. Maybe the horse that graced the menu was also gracing my plate.

Tracy had an okay appetizer fit for a party of eight. Makenna had Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (it was $4). No lie. The menu actually said Kraft Mac & Cheese...not even the Deluxe kind. Add two adult beverages, and our bill was $49. Did I mention that we only bought ONE entree?

Now, to the service, or lack thereof...the only thing served quickly were our drinks. My guess is that they were trying to get us liquored up, so we wouldn't notice the bad food or slow service. We sat for more than 15 minutes before they even took our order. Then, after suffering through the meal, paying and leaving a sizeable gratuity, we had to wait for the "free" cake, which we took in a to-go bag.

It was not worth the wait or the weighty check. I'm not even going to link you to their website or the stupid IndyStar article that promoted it. Do yourself a favor and go to Applebee's for the Bourbon St. Steak.

Indiana Autumn

With the onset of fall-like weather, I am reminded afresh of why I missed Indiana so. It is more than just the colors that come with the fall foliage. It is the brisk morning air hinting at the change of seasons, the colorful sunsets, hayrides, fall festivals and bonfires.

Yesterday, I enjoyed an exhilarating, solo bike ride at sunset…and what a magnificent sunset it was! In my shorts and t-shirt, I set off for a quick circuit around our neighborhood and enjoyed the cool breeze as I got my heart rate up peddling in 14th gear. When I rounded the next to last corner on my final lap, I saw a brilliantly orange moon peak above the roofline of my neighborhood. It was a picture perfect night.

This morning, on my way to work, I watched the sunrise in the rearview mirror of my truck. A thin ribbon of clouds hanging high over Castleton were turning a Raspberry color in the first light of sun. The air was brisk. I wondered if fall was truly here, considering last week’s 90-degree days.

The landscapers were busy mowing the grass at the dealership. When I took an early walk over to our used car lot, I was met with the most pleasant smell of summer—fresh cut grass. That’s a smell that I won’t get to enjoy in a few more weeks. It will soon be replaced by the smell of wood burning fireplaces and the pungent aroma of dead leaves burning in backyards.

These hints of the new season at-hand are novel to me once again. We usually had a week or two of fall-like weather in Tallahassee. Beyond November, the weather there waffled between winter and fall for a few months, then came the return of blanket-like humidity and scorching heat. I missed Indiana for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was my extended family, but Indiana Autumns are hard to beat

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Job Change

Well, I made the leap...from one Indianapolis car dealership to another. I'm now the Internet Sales Manager for Bill Estes Chevrolet on Indy's northwest side...I-465 and Michigan Road, to be exact. I'm not only managing new vehicle leads as they come in, I'm also assisting the marketing director. It's a new challenge and one that I'm eagerly embracing. Soon, I hope to have a team working under me and a new title...e-Commerce Director. Doesn't that sound flashy?

Anyway, I'm in my first month on the job and already I'm working to start a new blog and two social networking pages. I'll post links once they are up and running, hopefully in the next two weeks. I've already added some links to this page, over on the right under my profile.

I'd be remiss if I didn't pass along some great new incentives on the remaining inventory of 2007 Chevy Tahoe, Chevy Suburban, Chevy Cobalt and Chevy Malibu. The SUV's now have $3,000 in rebates from the factory and the Cobalts and Malibus sport $2,000 in factory rebates. Beyond that, I can discount any new Chevrolet for my friends and family. Feel free to e-mail or call me, 877-645-4901, if you're in the market for a new or used auto.

Anyway, I'm loving the new dealership. And though it's a pretty good commute from Fishers everyday, it's worth it to have such a great team and supportive managers who all believe in the Internet Sales Department. It's a pretty far cry from the other dealerships I've worked for previously, but I won't mention names.

For my friends who worry that I've fallen off the radar, don't fret. I've just been real busy getting things in order at Bill Estes' Chevy store...who by the way is a huge Colts fan and a really nice guy! I should be more available in a few weeks. If you miss me, leave me a comment. If you need a car, e-mail, call or stop by. Ciao for now!

Monday, August 27, 2007

All the World's Indeed a Stage...

…and we are merely players, performers and portrayers, each another’s audience outside the gilded cage. (“Limelight,” lyrics by Neil Peart)

Rush took to the stage at Verizon Wireless Music Center last night in Noblesville (Indianapolis), Indiana. The concert marked my third live Rush experience, the best one by far.

The Canadian prog rock trio opened with “Limelight” (Moving Pictures, 1981), a standard on classic rock radio, and didn’t wrap for nearly three hours. There was a 30-minute intermission, but when the band retook the stage, they played some of their newest material with a renewed vigor, surprising for the aging rockers.

And the set list did NOT disappoint. They played B-sides like “Entre Nous,” “Freewill” (Permanent Waves, 1978) and “Witch Hunt,” my favorite song from the Moving Pictures album. Of course, the set was ripe with new material from the 2007 Snakes and Arrows release and crowd favorites, “Tom Sawyer,” “Spirit of Radio” and “Subdivisions.”

The second set included a new instrumental, “Malignant Narcissisim,” from which Neil Peart launched into an incredible drum solo that included his trademark snare rolls, cowbells, synthesized drums and vibraphone, all on a rotating stage. He finished it off with a jazz segment augmented by a video honoring such drumming legends as Buddy Rich. He once again proved that age has not slowed him down one iota.

In fact, Neil, Geddy and Alex all play virtually flawless, but I wouldn’t expect any less from the seasoned vets of rock. Geddy’s basswork now dominates much of the performance as the group has gotten away from their highly synthesized past. He only played a lone keyboard a handful of times. The rest of the show was balls-out, gritty, guitar-driven, rhythm-centric rock.

Verizon is a great outdoor venue and we had great seats to complement the outstanding weather. What made it an absolutely perfect night was sharing it with some old friends, one of whom camped out at Market Square Arena with me for tickets to the 1986 show. All these years later, and Rush just keeps getting better with age. I hope this wasn’t the band’s last tour.

(Click here for a complete Rush discography.)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Doyle Hypocricy

The melodrama on a message board I frequent was only recently eclipsed by the drama surrounding an upcoming family wedding. Let me just say from the start that this is EXACTLY the reason I have a problem with self-righteous people.

This Doyle melodrama, brought to you by the Pharisaical First Holiness Church on the Prairie, revolves around a divorced family member who is marrying his mistress. Yes, the other woman is getting her prize, much to the chagrin of just about everyone in my family.

Can they let it go, already?

Yes, adultery, affairs, divorce, divided families, etc. are not Christian ideals. We all agree on that. However, forgiveness, grace and mercy are the highest of ideals…just browse the New Testament or Google, “Sermon on the Mount.”

We were only alerted to the wayward family member’s second marriage very recently. The celebration takes place in just over a week. That’s hardly enough time for us to trash the couple, badmouth their situation, judge their morals and critique everything from the invitations to the honeymoon. How inconsiderate!

And in the family discourse that has erupted, I’ve learned:
 that an ordained member of my family could possibly lose his salvation if he even drives past the church where the wedding is to occur
 that its okay to attend the wedding for appearance sake ONLY
 that its also okay to shun this family member and the soon-to-be in-law simply because we know their union is “unholy”

Self-righteousness is an UGLY wart on the Body of Christ. Unfortunately, my immediate family does not think so. Because they are right, and they have Scripture to prove it, they can look down their noses at the shunned ones and feign pity, when what they really want is some good Old Testament judgment reigned down by a vengeful God. Okay, maybe only the ex-wife wants that, but many in my family are on “her side,” as if battle lines have been drawn around this wedding.

It’s crazy, I know, but no one has ever accused my family of functionality. And maybe that’s why this is bothering me so. It is MY family, not just some group of hypocritical Christians at a (fill-in the blank) rally.

Now, that I’ve vented, I only feel a tinge of remorse. After all, I’m now the one being quite the hypocrite…but its okay as long as I do it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Smooth Jazz Appreciation

Some people call it the new "easy listening" (read elevator) music, but I call it native music. A great grandchild of New Orleans Jazz, smooth jazz is one of my favorite genres. Thanks to a local radio station and my current employer, I'm treated every couple of months to a concert by some of the best modern artists in this genre. (I blogged about the last smooth jazz concert I attended here.)

Because these semi-monthly concerts are billed as "listener appreciation parties" by the radio station, I decided a blog was in order. Thus, I borrowed for the title.

Now, let me introduce you to a couple of legends in their own of whom I knew nothing about, and the other I had first heard on a Tallahassee smooth jazz station about nine years ago.

Photo by Anita Carlsson/Courtesy

Brian Bromberg
is a straight ahead jazz bassist who feels right at home on a standard upright acoustic bass or a five-stringed electric. He's played with some jazz legends, as you can see from the link (i.e. click on his name). He appeared tonight at the Music Mill along with the artist below...just a duet of keyboard and bass. And while it was billed as a "smooth jazz" event, these guys jammed and improved like a couple of jazz greats from the 60's, a time when this music was simply known as cool. I'll admit that I wasn't familiar with Brian's name or his music, but tonight's performance made me an instant fan.

Photo by Nicolas Zurcher/Courtesy

Jeff Lorber was a pioneer of early jazz fusion in the mid-late 1970's with his self-titled band of which a young Kenny G was a member. Lorber went on to perform with a number of great artists as a keyboardist and drummer, not the least of which was Kenny. He also produced a litany of albums. His list of credits is three pages long on (follow the link by clicking his name if you don't believe me). Like his white sidekick on stage tonight, the guy could hold his own with any jazz musician anywhere. The skin tone of both musicians belied the soulful artistry within. They blew me away.

The venue was small, once again creating an intimate atmosphere where I almost felt a part of the performance. (With my hands and feet constantly tapping, you would've thought I was the percussionist). It was a really solid set that lasted 90 minutes and was ripe with improvised numbers and meaty solos. I was surprised how much I enjoyed the music, sans drums. There wasn't even a sequencer, midi or electric metronome to keep time. These guys didn't need it.

Since moving to Indy, I've now had the pleasure of watching the following musicians perform (in order): Philippe Saisse, Walter Beasley, Spyro Gyra, the Rev. Al Green, John Mayer and the aforementioned Lorber and Bromberg. I'd say its been a pretty good summer musically speaking. I'm topping it off with a Rush concert at the end of this month...which goes to my other favorite genre and a topic for a later post. For now, let me encourage you to find a cd by either artist and learn to appreciate the artistry behind smooth jazz.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Redington Shores Getaway

This picture (and those below) pretty much sums up our Redington Shores (FL) getaway last week...SANS CHILDREN! It was one of the best vacations EVER!
We did little but eat, sleep, drink, relax, sunbathe, repeat...and God treated us to some of the most spectacular sunsets. These pictures hardly do it justice.

These sunsets were witnessed nightly from the perch of our second floor balcony. By day three, we were in such a low gear we were taking each others'
pulse. It was work, no chores, no kids (though we did start to miss them by day six).

We stayed very inexpensively at a pink, cynder block quad right on Redington Shores Beach. If you want contact information for the owner, please let me know before October. That's when rates go back up.

We found a couple of nearby restaurants that were tops for breakfast--Kenny's Korner, a short walk down Gulf Blvd; and The Frog Pond, a short drive. We also found a fresh seafood market, cigar shop and coffee shop withing walking distance of the condo. Down the road in St. Pete Beach, we found an artisans market and a superb winery--Florida Orange Groves and Winery, Inc.--that won several awards at the Indiana State Fair over the past four years. Their Blackberry Semi-Sweet Wine is the best of that type I've ever tried. And you'll HAVE to ask Tracy to tell you the Madeira Beach Toilet Seat story.

AHHH, great memories! We've determined to try and maintain that beach mentality, even going as far as buying a Dreamscape CD that has 68 minutes of continuous surf and nothing else.

We would definitely recommend Redington Shores, a 30-minute drive from Tampa International Airport (TPA), to anyone looking for a great beach getaway. The fact that our condo was somewhat isolated from the hustle and bustle of the more popular beaches--Clearwater, St. Pete, Treasure Island--it made for a romantic 7-day getaway. Still, you're close enough to the cities to do just about anything.

Soon I'll have an entire photo album of pictures, including our trip to the Lowry Park Zoo. For now, you'll have to settle for the one's posted here. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Buddy Rich Tribute

BUDDY RICH 1917-1987

When considering great drummers of the modern era, one man stands at the top of the heap: Bernard "Buddy" Rich. I did not pay near enough attention to this legendary musician in my youth. All I knew about him was that he was a jazz drummer who could play lightning quick buzz rolls and was a favorite on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

As I began taking drumming more seriously in my late teens, I began exploring all types of music, including jazz. I marvelled at the percussive wizardry and technical acumen of such greats as Billy Cobham, Dave Weckl, Alex Acuna, Jeff Porcaro, Harvey Mason and others. Still unaware of the influence of jazz's all-time master, I idolized these modern drumming marvels, along with rock's best Steve Smith (toured with Journey early in his career), Neil Peart (Rush) and of course Porcaro (a drummer who truly transcended genre).

It wasn't until the 1990's that I became more aware of the influence Buddy Rich had on all of my favorite drummers. When Neil Peart released the "Burning for Buddy" tribute CD in '94, I was simply blown away. Because of the dabbling I had done in jazz and big band swing, I immediately appreciated the prowess of Rich and his disciples. And this tribute CD featuring Rich's own band included performances by some of my favorite drummers, most notably Peart, Smith and Weckl. They assembled to pay homage to the man who is arguably the best to have ever picked up a pair of sticks.

After wearing out my copy of "Burning for Buddy, Vol. 1" and ordering "Vol. 2," I stumbled upon a best of Buddy Rich compilation that included some of the famous drum duels between he and Gene Krupa. I was mesmorized. So when I found that the Burning for Buddy sessions had been captured on DVD, I had to own a copy.

It arrived in the mail last weekend!

To hear my idols, Peart et al, talk about the impact Rich had on their lives and careers kind of put his iconic status into perspective for me. What's more, they all admired and respected each other, as well. They approached this project with fear, humility and much exhiliration. Some of them, Peart included, had never played with a big band so they were really out of their element. That just makes watching them perform that much better.

I only wish I had paid more attention to Buddy while he was still alive. Some of his performances from the early to mid 80's are astonishingly great. Here's a clip of his appearance on the Muppet Show in 1978: Buddy Rich v. Animal

As you can see, the man was amazingly fast with the sticks and made the double-stroke roll look effortless at any speed. He was very creative in his approach to the drums, milking the percussive quality out of every conceiveable part of his kit, including the stands. He was a pioneer who cut a path for all drummers of the modern era, regardless of genre. (In fact, one of the drummers featured on the DVD was a metal head who played for Guns'N'Roses.) His legacy is evident by the sheer number of drummers, including myself, who feel obliged to pay tribute and who watch the old footage with much awe and admiration.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Drummers Dilemna

Some of you may not know that "in another life" I worked as a radio personality and semi-professional drummer. The short-lived smooth jazz station in Tallahassee was where I called home for the last semester of school back in '97 and for several months after graduation. Money was the main reason I left that job for greener pastures. But throughout my whole adult life, I've found ways to pursue my passion for drumming. Opportunities have dwindled since leaving the church music scene back in Tally, but the passion is still there.

Any time I am in a concert setting, at a music store or around other musicians, I get the urge to pick up a pair of sticks and bang on something. That was the case this past Thursday.

Indy's smooth jazz station, WYJZ, was hosting a listener appreciation party at a small music venue, featuring saxophonist Walter Beasley. He brought his whole band and for 90 minutes they rocked the Music Mill. Paying close attention to the drummer, I thought (as I often do), "I could be doing that!"

And it's true. While not the most technically-precise or fine-tuned musician, I do pretty well to hold my own with most contemporary forms of music. A self-taught drummer, I really prefer to play smooth jazz, R&B and gospel for their rhythm-centric groove and syncopation.

And its not just the magic of music or the thrill of performance that calls out to me in the shadows of the club, church or music hall. It is the whole atmosphere and the connectedness that joins musician and audience member. It is the power of creation at work, drawing people in on an emotional and physical level.

Even when I handled events for the radio station in days gone by, I sensed that I was part of the larger music scene. I was able to go out and enjoy good music while feeling a part of some larger community not bound by race, socio-economic status or religion. I miss that.

Thursday's concert was just another reminder of what I am missing. And while I've tried to fill that void with the occasional church appearance as guest drummer on a worship team, I yearn for more than just a four-song set on a Sunday morning.

I think it is important to seek creative outlets and to explore the things you are most passionate about. Sometimes life can get in the way of that pursuit, but it helps to be reminded that you make time for the things of most import to you. If you are passionate about something, if you have a creative spark inside you, why aren't you passionate in your pursuit of it? I find myself asking that question more and more.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

It's Freakin' Cold Here!

You might think that a kid who spent the first 17 years of his life here would know this already...but IT'S FREAKIN' COLD UP HERE!!!

After a week of 70-degree-plus temperatures and one of the mildest Marches on record, this Hoosier kid is stunned by the chill in the air (see temperature map above, courtesy of The Weather Channel). I mean, I remember that there is usually another cold spell around Easter before Springtime weather firmly takes hold in the Heartland, but freezing temps and snow flurries??? SHEESH! C'mon, Mama Nature! How 'bout a little help here?!?!?!

I recently moved my family up from Tallahassee, Florida. I thought we had survived winter, what with a late February blizzard and all, then the sudden 80-degree, record setting days that followed. But this weather is PSYCHOTIC! Call Doctor Phil or something!!!

We used to joke in Tallahassee that if you didn't like the weather, just wait 10 minutes. The speed with which change could occur in the stratosphere above North Florida was amazing, but seldom did we get 40-degree swings in a 12-hour period, only to have it swing 40 degrees the other way soon after. That's what it's been doing here in Indiana.

It begs the question, "What was I thinking?" And I could live with this psycho weather if I knew an end was in sight, but a co-worker just told me in passing that he's seen snow flurries as late as May before. That is very disconcerting.

This is my formal plea to Mr. Jack Frost. Get the heck out of Central Indiana and go back to the poles where you belong!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Long Winter of the Soul

It's 3 AM on a cold Indiana morning, though not as cold as it has been for two and a half months. Could we be seeing the last frigid days of winter? The groundhog thinks so. I certainly hope so.

It was just three short months ago that I loaded up the family truckster and headed to good ol' Indy…in the dead of winter. As I sit here by the fire and the light of my monitor, wondering what the hell I'm doing up at this hour, I reflect on the icy days of December, January and February. And while it seems that we are finally emerging from the cold, dark past, I'm left to wonder, has my marriage survived the winter?

Sure, we enjoyed the change in climate, the adventure of new beginnings and snow days, but as reality sets in—new jobs, new mortgage, new school—that whole "let's start over in Indiana" idea seems a little more suspect.

Honestly, it has been an adventure. The girls seem to be adjusting well. The job is certainly paying well. We love our new family at The Dwelling Place. And we love being close to my family. But we certainly haven't escaped us…Tracy and I, that is.

We had hoped for a rebirth, of sorts, for our marriage…a fresh start…a DO-OVER. Hasn't quite been as easy as calling "Ghost man on third!"

I knew that the transition would take its toll eventually. I knew that rebuilding trust could take forever. I just expected the new environs to help us cling to our newfound selves. But for whatever reasons—and I'm sure there is a plethora—we butterflies are clinging to the old cocoon. Why haven't we broken free and begun to fly? We're in counseling. We have a great support network. We seem to still like each other (I said LIIIKE, DOTTIE!) and enjoy each other's company. But to say that the flicker of romance is about as dim as my desktop lamp on low would be an understatement.

I'm finding out that marital do-overs are much harder than the ones invoked during child's play. Would the damn ghost man just score already!!! SHEESH! Steal home or something!

Our marriage still seems to be struggling through this winter period. If you read this and think "Aw, not Tris and Cracy," then you haven't been following along with the program. Say a prayer for us. Drop us a line or a note to say you're thinking of us.

We're both committed to making this thing work. We're just not sure we have the right tools. And let's face it, those of you who know me know I ain't the master craftsman when tools of any kind are required to fix a broken thing.

Well, that's all for today, children. Indiana's winter was bearable, but this long winter of the soul is getting old.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

How Things Are Supposed To Be

I used to think that Christians thought they had the market cornered on truth. And while that is still a major sticking point for me, I’ve encountered even more Christians who believe they know how things ought to be. Whether it’s a dyed-in-the-wool evangelical who believes colonial America was the utopia we should return to or the modern-day Nostradamus who knows what the future holds and wants to shape it with cookie-cutter precision, Christians want the world to know how things are supposed to be.

For instance, God never intended same-sex unions, planned parenthood, equal rights or stem cell research, so we should ignore the progresses of modern science, women, gay people and minorities. We should continue to step on the backs of the marginalized so that we—and I mean WASP-y middle class Americans—can attain our goals of 2.5 children, 2 cars, two thousand-plus square feet of living space and a dog we can kick when it seems that life is unfair and the world around us is going to hell in a handbasket.

What really irks me about many Christians is that they are often quick to offer the quick-fix formula of prayer, bible reading and quiet time, yet they usually can’t show results to prove its effectiveness. That formula written on a chalkboard would look something like this:


The end result is a better you.

Formulas are nice if you’re an MIT student, but if you’re just a regular Joe struggling to get along in the world, they mean diddly-poo...the latter flung on a chalkboard ain't pretty. Besides, every religion in the world will tell you that some sort of quiet time including meditation or reflective prayer will give you inner peace. The problem results when inner peace doesn’t translate into a better you. If you step out of your “prayer closet” and cuss the first person or inanimate object that does you wrong, then your peace was way too fleeting. If you aren’t charitable, merciful, loving, compassionate and kind, then who cares how many Bible verses you can quote, how many days you can fast and pray or what you have to say about the state of society???

I’d like just a few more Christians to spend more time on introspection. Stay in that prayer closet just an hour longer and take a mirror in there with you! Get things in your own life straight before you tell everyone else how things should be. Jesus did say something about the log in your own eye.

I'm not sure how the world is supposed to be according to God's grand design, but the Bible does give me a pretty good picture of how Jesus was, how he lived and what kind of character he displayed. All I'm saying is that Christians should start to reflect Him and quit worrying about everyone and everything else. I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Miami, Here We Come!


To say that I'm excited is an understatement. As a Colts fan for the last 24 years, I am beside myself with anticipation of the Indianapolis NFL franchise's first Vince Lombardi trophy.

It seems fitting that the Colts will face my childhood favorite Chicago Bears. Truth be told, I still rooted for the Bears through the mid-80's--yes, even the SuperBowl Shuffle team--while getting acclimated to my new team. But even through the Mike Pagel and Jeff George years, I faithfully supported the Indianapolis Colts and now this.

I cannot say enough about Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning and the entire Colts organization. They have proudly represented all that's right and good about my hometown. I was a proud Dungy supporter when he and I called Florida home because his Tampa Bay Bucs were always drafting players out of my alma mater, Florida State. When news broke of his move to Indy, I was elated. I knew that it was just a matter of time before he built a championship caliber team here, like he did in Tampa just a few years ago.

So bring on the Bears and the Miami Beach humidity!!! This is the year of the horse, no doubt about it!


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Coach Knight's Untarnished Legacy

Photo: Sports Illustrated/CNN

Is it just me or do most, if not all, sports writers have an axe to grind with The General? Can we not just recognize his accomplishment for what it is and say "Congratulations Coach!"???

After reading one columnist in the local paper and two more columns on, I am getting a little irritated with the asterisks they want to place beside the winningest coach's record. Is it really that important where the record number was reached? I mean, he could be coaching at Central Connecticut State University for all I care. The man is a legend.

If we're going to put an asterisk beside something, how about we put a bold, 48-point font asterisk next to his dismissal by Indiana. In the footnotes, it would explain how Myles Brand was an arrogant boob out to ruin the famed basketball program in Bloomington. Were it not for Brand's larger-than-Mt. Everest ego, Knight might well have finished his career at I.U.

I'm sure all the Knight-bashers, most of whom get paid to write sports columns, would be quick to point to Knight's declining stats as I.U. Head Coach, but I believe the arrogance of the school's administration and their handling of the situation may have been part of the problem there, as well. Have you ever stayed a week, a month or a year too long at a job where the bosses made it known that they didn't personally care for you? Did your performance suffer or your attitude slide as a result?

I am just saying that for all the negative angles you can take to tarnish Knight's image and his accomplishments, the facts and the statistics speak for themselves.

I challenge any sports writer to take a survey of past Knight players--at Army, Indiana and Texas Tech--and see if the overwhelming majority don't have great things to say about their coach...about how he molded them as players, and more importantly as men, or about how he held academics to such a high standard and helped them to degrees/careers...etc.

So you have a problem with his tact or lack don't like the way he addresses the media when they ask stupid questions or display a clear don't like the level of his intensity or how it is displayed courtside...fine! GET OVER IT!

I, like so many other Knight admirers, will cherish this moment in history and each record-increasing victory. Congratulations, Coach Knight!