new year's prayer

2005 was nothing to sing about, at least for me. On this final day I was called to the bedside of a precious woman from our congregation. She is dying of a vicious cancer. Her husband said simply "it's everywhere." It was like a final slap in the face from a dreadful year. So I offer my naive, idealistic prayer for the year 2006, which I hope will be better than this past one--it wouldn't take much to make it so.

Dear God,

You are wonderful and so is the world you created. You have sustained it through all these long years of turning and it continues to be beautiful despite what we have done to it. Upon it, so many of us, your people, have turned to violence and to hatred and forsaken the love to which you called us and call us still. We have become cold and hard, so much so that we routinely fail to notice you in the passing of days and seasons. As another of our man-made years begins, help us please to turn with the planet: turn away from war, turn away from violence, turn away from hatred. Help us turn toward each other in peace, in hope, and in love. It is not something we have been able to do on our own, nor can we ever. We need you. Amen.

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kent haruf's eventide: beautifully depressing

Don't get me wrong, Kent Haruf's Eventide, which takes up where his astounding Plainsong leaves off, is a wonderful book. It's just that it's so depressing. Or maybe a better word is bittersweet.

Haruf takes us back again to Holt, Colorado: a small town populated by people who have at least a passing acquaintance with pretty much everybody else. All the major characters from Plainsong are here: The brothers McPheron (one of whom comes as close as anybody to being the protagonist), Tom Guthrie, Maggie Jones, Victoria Robideaux, as well as a few new people who we didn't meet last time, or met only briefly. Also as before, Haruf explores a story that interweaves events in the lives of all the characters.

He gets off to what I thought was a rather uneven start, but everything changes dramatically at about a quarter of the way in. I don't want to say anymore about what happens; let's just say that Haruf is a brave writer.

These characters are so vivid I feel I know them. Haruf wisely keeps a couple of veteran characters out of the story until well into the book, since as we all know, real people come into and out of our lives with sometimes long breaks in between where there is no contact at all, even if we live in the same town. I like the way Haruf finds beauty and poetry in events while managing to create characters that seem absolutely realistic.

And that's the place I have to be with this book. I wished for a different ending, and a different middle for that matter, but that's not the way it is sometimes. The ending isn't sad really, though I don't mind sad endings at all. It's just so utterly, defiantly uncontrived and real that I closed the book wishing things could have worked out better. Yet even in the last paragraph, Haruf paints a sparse and beautiful picture.

I sincerely hope that Haruf will revisit Holt once more. I'd like to go back with him, and I suspect you will too.
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hi, my name is jim and i'm a bookaholic or: the twelve books of christmas

There is nothing more exciting than a bunch of books for Christmas (except maybe an autographed collectible movie script). I received gift cards from my brother, my parents, and a couple in our church this Christmas. Every cent of that gift money is now spent... all on books. I know, I'm sad.

Actually, no, I'm quite happy. Here's the list of books added to my library since December 25th... (alpha by author, of course)

The Memory of Old Jack
by Wendell Berry

Lost In My Own Backyard by Tim Cahill

Petroleum Man by Stanley Crawford

We Are Still Married by Garrison Keillor (signed first edition[!] from my pal Will)

The Light of the Falling Stars by J. Robert Lennon

The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writer's by Betsy Lerner

The Green House by Mario Vargas Llosa

The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty

Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer

Your Call Is Important To Us by Laura Penny

Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie

Gotta go, lots of reading to do. Peace out.

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i'm dynamite. didn't you know?

You scored as Napoleon Dynamite


Napoleon Dynamite


Uncle Rico




Pedro Sanchez






Which Napoleon Dynamite character are you?!?
created with QuizFarm.com

wicked dance moves to: My bud ashbo
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blake ross: developer or comedian? you decide.

Blake Ross, who "started the Firefox project with Dave Hyatt" posted predictions for 2006 on his blog today.

Warning: If you're in any way familiar with the workings of the internet, this thing is pee-your-pants funny.

Okay, go.

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in which i jump the shark

y'know every blog and its brother is linking to a particular Saturday Night Live clip today which would ordinarily guarantee that I'd skip it. But this one reminds me of all that used to be good about that show. I don't watch it now, but I kinda wish I'd seen the Chronic of Narnia. Of course, I was at church on Saturday when it aired... so, yeah. Just watch it already.

And now I know where the ever so subtly witted Zalm got his going away post title.


pass of the chronic to: Kato Katonian


Speaking of Stephen, he's been doing some photo doctoring using The Gimp, a program I played around with for a while a few months ago (see my icons).

Any of you graphic/site design guru's out there want to help Stephen with his photo manipulation project?

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wild pink olive floyd branch

Confused by that title? Try typing it.

Stephen wonders, "is there anybody out there?"

I'm here and reading, Stephen. No worries. And hey, can you play the acoustic guitar part at the end of that Floyd song?

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too good to pass up

Another Texas blogger pal o'mine, Blanco, stumbled on a funny/disturbing article form the LA times.

I never knew cell phones could be so dangerous. Makes me glad that I, like Blanco, don't own one.

A woman swallowed her phone, and...

Police were initially told the boyfriend wanted the phone and the woman tried to swallow it so that he could not get it.

But then there was the rest of the story. It's short, go read it.


yahoolicious: not so tasty

So, a couple of weeks ago there was this announcement that Yahoo! had purchased del.icio.us

I use delicious for my categorization needs. It works (worked) fine. That is, until it was purchased by the yahoos at Yahoo!

It's down right now, at least as far as I can tell. This is the second time in three weeks. I don't recall experiencing any downtime before the announcement.

I'm sure this will be spun as a new "feature" of the service, as they say in Billdom.

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theology in "secular" films

"The idea that Christians will go see films targeted at them has not been borne out by the marketplace. Christians, it turns out, see the same films as everyone else."

Here's an interesting piece by Thom Parham entitled Why Do Heathens Make the Best Christian Films. The author asks an interesting question in a thoughtful, well written article.

Here's another quote:

Christian filmmakers seem to believe that they do not have to compete in the mainstream market. Thus, storytelling and production values end up taking a backseat to the movie's message.

How Schaeffer-esque.

And yet another pithy statement:

"Christian filmmakers seem to dislike mystery."

In fact, I would apply that sentiment more broadly to include most of mainline and evangelical Christianity (that means churches, too). There seems almost to be a lust for certainty and factuality and a fear of mystery. I would suggest that that fear is what mystery is all about and leads us toward rather than away from God's presence. Yet people who remain unconvinced of the gospel generally seem more comfortable with uncertainty and than those who do.

Toward the end of the article, Parham points out that a slew of Christian films were actually made by Christian filmmakers. Catholic Christian filmmakers. I was going to take him to task for this, but can't question his choices, which include films by Hitchcock, Scorcese, Capra, and Coppola -- Catholics all. I've always maintained that Catholics have us mainstream and evangelical types completely snookered in the mystery department. And anyway, he qualified his remarks by saying,

"This isn't to say that non-Catholic Christian filmmakers are at a complete disadvantage when creating cinema. But the Protestant evangelical emphasis on the primacy of "word" has not allowed us to fully realize our ability to translate the image of God (imago Dei) into moving pictures."

Which may be the most insightful statement in the article. We sometimes forget that though the word is primary, it was made flesh for a reason.

Anyway, interesting read if you like films and theology.

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don't make me say it again

It was bul***t then, it's bull***t now. This time from RIAA BS artist Jenni Engebretsen:

"Our goal with all these anti-piracy efforts is to protect the ability of the recording industry to invest in new bands and new music and give legal online services a chance to flourish..."

Sound familiar? It should. This is their toe the line excuse for going after a woman who, as a federal judge describes her, is...

"an Internet-illiterate parent, who does not know Kazaa from kazoo, and who can barely retrieve her email."


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world's coolest brother in law

I'll bet you did not receive one of these from your brother-in law this Christmas...

Pictured above is an autographed final draft of the script of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Signed by Director Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Cate Blanchett, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen and others from the cast.

Pretty amazing. You should have seen my face when I opened it.

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most excellent Christmas moment

As the assistant in worship, I read many of the scriptures recounting the Christmas story. One of the passages was the following from Luke chapter 2,

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

The moment I finished reading that last line, from somewhere near the back of the sanctuary a little child called out, "yaaaaaayyy!"

"That's right!" I responded, before continuing on with the rest of the reading.

"From the lips of children and infants, you have ordained praise..."

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advent devotional: a different, better world

Here's the final advent devotional. Merry Christmas to all who read this. I hope you'll choose to worship tonight with a congregation in your community. And tomorrow, I hope you can take the day off, especially if you're in ministry. Some of your fellow christians may smite you for it, but God will not.

Scripture: Matthew 2:12 –…they left for their own country by another road.

Because we lived in Cleveland for so long, most of my Christmas day memories from that period are of long drives. Christmas day may be the best travel day of the year. We never, ever hit a traffic jam on our many 450 mile trips from Ohio to New Jersey, and the coffee was free at all Sheetz stations on that day. How lovely!

I found I enjoyed those Christmas drives and I miss them now. Fellow travelers were always more pleasant on that day, and I guess I was too. Total strangers at the Sheetz stations would stop and say, “Merry Christmas,” and not just the person behind the counter. Even the world itself seemed different. It looked the same, except maybe for some snow cover west of here, but something had changed. It felt like, for one day, we inhabited a different, better world.

Now comes the part where I’m supposed to tell you that you should, by God’s power, strive to make the world different and better today. But I’m not going to do that. I simply hope that you will take a moment to recognize that because of Christmas, the world is somehow different, and that God didn’t need us to do anything but let him make it so.

Will you do that today? And maybe thank God for what he’s done as well.

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go read this. It's funny (if you've ever used a computer, that is. You have used a computer before, right?).

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friggin awesome

have a very napoleon christmas, y'all.

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blog the book

My apologies for posting these two articles days after they appeared, but I've been too busy to read them, and I still have about a dozen others to catch up on.

Anyway, both articles are from the New York times and have to do with authors and their interaction with and reaction to the blogosphere.

What Bloggers Say About Authors

Authors mentioned in the first article (entitled "What Are the Blogs Saying About Me?"), about book criticism by bloggers, include Rick Moody and Luis Alberto Urrea among others.

Urrea's book, The Hummingbird's Daughter got a wonderful write up from one of my favorite bloggers. And apparently Eric's rave review was one among many. Says Urrea, "You're always braced for bad news, but blogs have been so friendly."

That's not always the case, of course. Go read the article and see for yourself.

Blogged About Books

The second article, more a list really, is perhaps even more interesting: A Selection of the Most Blogged About Books of 2005. Beneath each book's title is a link to blog posts about it. There are literally (get it?) hours and hours of reading available.

One notable absence from the list is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Only a couple of months ago I couldn't get through a day without running across a blog post about that book. Come to think of, Hummingbird's Daughter isn't on the list either. Hmmmm...

dead nun walking

"'We've had a lot of fun with it,' Sister Cahoon said on Thursday. People have asked her what she saw in heaven, and whether she will need to die again in order to get there."

She's only mostly dead*.

Actually, she's not even close. Despite what the paper said. At 82, she's still got a lot of life left to live. "The universal feeling that has come across is that people are very glad I'm not dead," she said.

Sister Janelle Cahoon lives, let us be thankful.

Kick of the habit to: Obscure Store.

*It's an adapted film quote, can you guess from where?


was taught the fear-a-Jesus in a small town...

Cowtown Pattie picked this up from DarkoV and I haven't done a meme in a while, so here are my results for...


Small Town
You scored 16 out of 40 on urban-rural and 23 out of 40 land intensity.

People know you as:
The Dr. Kennicott Wannabe

Quote: "Things aren’t like they used to be."

You’re like the character Will Kennicott in the novel "Main Street". Your score indicates that you prefer a rural atmosphere to an urban one, but at moderately high land intensity. You think small towns where people know and care for one another are marvelous places to live. If you’ve ever lived in a small town before you’re probably older than the normal demographic here at okCupid. If you haven’t ever lived in a small town before, you should try it. You’ll like it better than the suburb you live in now, and the town’s economy could sure use you.

Examples of places you should live: Montpelier, VT; La Junta, CO

All Categories

Secluded Hideaway / Farm or Ranch / Small Town / Little City / Suburb / Streetcar Suburb / Rowhouse 'Hood / Downtown Loft

My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 19% on urban-rural
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 69% on land intensity
Link: The Where Should You Live Test written by TwelveFloorsUp on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

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hefty hefty hefty!

Mike, who has spent the last year and a half living in Kralupy, Czech Republic came home for the Christmas Coffeehouse this weekend.

We grabbed some coffee together on Monday and discussed books, faith, careers and how to avoid them, and blogs. Regarding the last subject in the list, Mike made a comment in passing about my own humble space. "You've got quite a hefty blog," he said.

We were on another subject at the time so I stored the remark for later retrieval but since I have almost no short term memory, forgot about it until this evening.

So what I did was, I backed up my blog using HTTRACK (a neat program by the way) and put it on a disc. A typical compact disc weighs approximately 16 grams. I can lift that no problem.

My blog is not hefty at all.

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servanthood: it applies in ministry too

The business world sometimes picks up on ideas so obviously good that it's hard not to account them as facts.

Slacker manager offrered a link to one such today*. Never, Ever Forget That You Are A Servant is an article from Business 2.0's My Golden Rule series.

Because of my impending career change, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what I liked about ministry and what frustrated me. One of the main frustrations was a common violation of this very principle of servanthood.

Ministers are servants. Whether you're ordained (perhaps, especially if you're ordained) or not. Whether your ministry happens in a church or not. If you are in ministry you are a servant. If you are doing anything but serving the people in your congregation, you are failing at ministry. This applies as a general rule as well as to specific tasks. A good question to ask when seeking to address a ministry project or initiative is: am I serving my congregation (you can substitute another word if your minstry context is something other than a church) or the appropriate part of the congregation by doing this task or project in this way?

It may seem obvious. It does to me, in both business and church applications. So why is servanthood such a rare thing?

Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have been feeding themselves! Shouldn't the shepherds feed their flock? You eat the fat, wear the wool, and butcher the fatlings, but you do not tend the flock.

*yesterday he suggested ignoring the donuts, also a good idea but very dangerous. I was scared to post it).

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Arrived home tonight after sharing lunch with my friend Brett in Pittsburgh.

No ice storms, pretty much clear skies the whole way... once I got out of Cleveland's orbit that is.

It's good to be home.

Thank you to my friends out Cleveland way, including this blogger, for being so wonderful.

going home

What I hadn't but should have counted on these past few days was having to explain my recent decision to all sorts of people that only know me as a minister. Most of them were excited for me, which was sort of a pleasant surprise.

One person in particular however, just didn't get it. "Wait, you have an MBA and you're going to work for [unnamed government agency]?" Then, walking away, he added, "I'll definitely pray for you. Sounds like you need it."

"We all need it, J--," I said. I don't think he heard me.

At any rate, the Christmas Coffeehouse went very well despite running a little long. I had the opportunity to re-connect with dear friends, including Sam Getz who once again opened his home to me.

Tomorrow it's the eastward return trip into the home stretch of my ministry career*.

*For now. I know better than to say "never."


advent devotional: the Lord of the Dogwood

This week's Advent devotional is written by my friend Jim Pennock, a member of my church. Jim had never written for our church's devotional before so I specifically asked for one from him this year. When he sent it he called it a "poor excuse for a devotional." I'm posting it here because I doubt you will agree with him. I certainly don't.


Scripture: John 8:12 – Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

When I was a young boy of about 14, I was hunting small game in the woods near my great uncle’s farm. It was dark in the woods and cool for spring. I had been out for 4 hours with no luck hitting anything.

I had a new 40-pound pull bow and wasn’t used to it yet on moving targets. I had given up shooting any more and was looking for tracks and scat, so I didn’t notice it till it got a lot brighter. I had walked into a clearing with one white dogwood tree in the middle of it. It must have been noontime because the sun was shining down on it. At that time I wasn’t very close to God, but I remember saying, “Thank you God for this small miracle of beauty.”

While attending Bible study, I was hunting for the understanding of God. Guess what I found just like that small miracle of beauty? The light of the world snuck right up on me as I was hunting for clues about it. Everything just fell into place, like it was already there before.

Thank you Jesus and your supporting cast, the pastors of my church and fellow members.

Thought for the day: May more of the light shine through us then on us.

Prayer: Thank you God for the Light of the World, the dogwood tree pales before Him.

--Jim Pennock

malick enters a new world

Terrence Malick is a filmmaker. It may be necessary for me to remind you of this since he has made only three feature length films in his nearly 40 year career.

I suppose that's okay if two of the films you make are Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line.

His visual sense is impeccable, which is good because there isn't much in the way of dialogue in Malick's films. If you discount the narration (and even that is pretty sparse) Days of Heaven has maybe 500 words of spoken dialogue spread out over its 95 minutes. Maybe less. The film simply doesn't need dialogue, the tension of the relationships and the excellent visuals sustain the film.

The same is true of Thin Red Line. Compare that film with Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Both films are masterpieces but whereas Spielberg seems to relish the occaisonal melodramatic moment ("Earn this"), Malick is completely immune to the tearjerker reflex. "Thin Red Line," and more so "Days of Heaven" feel at points like documentaries. Even the narrator of "Days," herself a main character, seems remote from the events she relates and participates in. There are no sad elegies in Malick's work.

Malick has a new film coming out soon. It's called The New World and is a retelling of the John Smith & Pocohontas saga. And if the following lead from a Hollywood Reporter article is any indication, it's going to be vintage Malick:

Terrence Malick's "The New World" is a visual tone poem orchestrated around the themes of innocence, discovery and loss.

Obviously, Malick didn't finish plumbing the depths of those themes in his previous films. I don't know that this is a bad thing. Those are powerful ideas and Terrence Malick knows how to create powerful images and stories around them.

The cast of this film includes Colin Ferrell, Wes Studi, Irene Bedard, Christian Bale, Jonathan Pryce, David Thewlis, and Cristopher Plummer. The film runs 150 minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence but, as is typical of Malick, no sex. Here's a detailed review from Slant.


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safe arrival

Because you were all waiting on the edges of your respective seats wanting to hear that I safely made it to Cleveland despite the ice storm... I did. And the ice storm itself turned out to be a relatively minor event (at least for southeastern PA). The roads were clear...

...until I got to Pittsburgh when I had to deal with four fairly potent snow squalls, one right after the other. It was late afternoon and I was getting tired, so they served to keep me alert.

Now it's 1:15am and I'm still wound up. Staying at the home of friends, friends who have wireless. It's good to have friends like that.

An enthusiastic post about Terrence Malick's upcoming movie will have to wait until tomorrow. Time to make an effort at sleep.

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who's dan mclean?

Dubya has an iPod. There's some good tunage on there as well as some country.

Thanks to Steve Rubel for lovely linkage.

the deeper mysteries of...


Yeah, baby. And the darker the better. I'm all over the whole minimally processed thing. Now there's evidence that lightly processed chocolate is good for you, very good. Check it out.

One question, how ever do they figure stuff like this out...

Harvard scientist Norman Hollenberg discovered that natives on an island off Panama had low blood pressure when drinking their favorite drink made from cocoa that had been minimally processed.

So do your heart a favor and go get a Dove Dark today.

This is also quite special

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serotoninrain christmasy film quiz

As we ride the ice storm out (it's actually just rain at the moment), here's a film quiz to warm you up inside. This one has a loose relationship to Christmas.

In what movie does Elle MacPherson give her husband a gift (told you it was loosely Christmas related) before she has her lover try to kill him?

Bonus props if you can link this movie with the film from this previous quiz.

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ice ice, baby

the forecast in these parts calls for ice.

Somebody forgot to tell the weather elves that I need to get to Cleveland!



there's nothing like it

There's nothing like watching your oldest daughter play her trombone with the all city band in the local school district's big holiday concert...

...except maybe not having to stay for all the other bands.

*I realize that a good parent would stay and clap for all the bands, but I've never claimed to be one of those. Furthermore, my head is throbbing. Time for some Advil.

*I further realize that I will now be castigated by certain brothers and sisters in Christ for contributing to the War on Christmas by referring to the musical event as a Holiday Concert, but that's what it was called.

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...if you needed it, that Peter Jackson is a force to be reckoned with.

"one of the great modern epics"

Incidentally, if you've never seen Jackson's earlier film Heavenly Creatures, now would be a good time.

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and now for something completely different

As we speak, BK is presenting the personnel committee of our church with my resignation.

Not only am I resigning my post as associate pastor, I am leaving ministry.

There are many reasons, most of which I'd rather not go into. In any event, it comes down to the fact that I am choosing to do something different with my life, starting now. Not that my next career is going to be anything spectacular; starting in January I'll be working for the federal government performing an essential though seemingly mundane service for the general public.

It's not what I will be doing that I'm looking forward to, it's what I won't be doing. I will, at least for now, no longer be working for the Church. Those of you who know me personally know of my level of frustration with ministry and with the Church. That frustration combined with the economic realities of supporting a family on what I make, and the complete lack of job security in a church such as mine, well, it's difficult. My wife and I will both be working for the first time in over a decade. It's going to be stranger for her than for me, I think.

People have told me again and again how much they respect the risk I took more than a dozen years ago, entering ministry with nothing but volunteer hours as both experience and education. Respect however, as nice as it is, doesn't pay the bills. Just a couple of weeks ago, yet another good friend gasped in amazement when I responded to her gentle request to say how much I make in a year. I like living simply, I do. It is amazing to see how God supplies. God has frequently stretched our dollars for us, even in the rare moments when we've been stupid about money (my wife manages our finances, and any seeming stupidity on her part was probably my fault).

But it's gotten a little old. The Church so often assumes that her workers ought to be more than satisfied, even grateful for the thin gravy she passes off as compensation. She asks so much of us: virtually 24/7/365 availability, willingness to be compassionate at all times, even when our own lives are falling apart etc. I know there's a common misperception out there that people in full time ministry don't do much in the way of work, but in reality there are few fields that demand as much of their professionals, and ministry pays less than almost any of them.

In my current assignment, there have been some very encouraging people who have helped a great deal in taking the edge off a very difficult last couple of years. Probably they are not reading this, but on the off chance that one or two of them find their way here: thank you. It means a lot.

However, it's gotten to where I simply can't do it anymore and I'm not talking about compensation. The Church has taken a great deal from me and has given very little back. I'm trying to avoid generalizing too much because I know this isn't true for everyone employed by a church. Moreover, there have been times when I knowingly allowed myself to be taken advantage of because I thought I had the best interests of my congregation in mind; falling on my sword, being a good soldier and all that. But no more.

Whatever the causes, I'm leaving with two bruised cheeks and legs that are worn out from walking many, many extra miles.

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i'm blogrolling him...

as soon as I stop laughing.

Some of you really need to follow that link. You know who you are.

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meet meat: a new definition of meatspace

I'd never heard of Terry Bisson until today when I read this article at Damn Interesting... a website which I am finding to be pretty damn interesting. Pardon my Italian.

Alan B. at DI shares about Bisson's story "They're Made Out of Meat."

This is a terrific piece of short fiction. A funny, thought provoking story.

Here's a brief rave I found on Bisson's website. It's written about another of his works, but it fits "Meat" as well:

"Not only wit but a nice clean prose. I read it from cover to cover, and I didn't even have to." --Marc Norman, Oscar-winning author of SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE

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a gift to the community

Six years ago, a couple of friends of mine and I said to each other, "Hey kids, let's put on a show!"

In reality it wasn't nearly so Rooney & Garland-esque, but we did extend an open invitation to local (near Bay Village, Ohio) musicians to grab 20 minute slots at what we were calling the Christmas Coffeehouse.

We had some standards...

  1. The scheduled acts had to distribute as many invitations as they could (10 per band member).
  2. There had to be food.
  3. The music had to be secondary to the conversation in the room, in other words not loud.
  4. It had to be late enough in December that the college crowd would be back in town for their winter break.
  5. It had to be free; it would be a gift to the community.*

We thought we'd be fortunate to get 50 people out to the event. 200 showed up. Not all at once, that would have been way too crowded.

This year, the sixth annual Christmas Coffeehouse takes place in Bay Village, OH on Sunday evening December 18th. I've turned down a speaking engagement to be there, as I mentioned previously. Each year's event has been better than the ones before. Even last year's Coffeehouse, which we had to hold on Saturday because our usual venue was booked on Sunday, drew a larger crowd than the previous year.

What it's like at the Bay Lodge during the Christmas Coffeehouse: People of every age, we're talking toddlers and all the way up, sitting close up on each other chatting, sharing coffee or tea or hot chocolate and maybe some cookies. They're seated at round tables but the room is so crowded that it's hard to tell to which table one belongs; at the Christmas Coffeehouse one belongs at all the tables. As acts get up and down, 'their' crowd shifts to the audience section at the front of the room, and then back again.

The first part of the evening is acoustic. After 9pm the amps get cranked up and the gloves come off.

We've had middle school bands and grammy nominated music producers perform on the same bill. We've listened to Feliz Navidad, Run Run Rudolph, and O Holy Night in the same set. We've had a lot of coffee and a lot of conversation and only a small amount of feedback from too hot microphones. Linus presented the gospel one year.

I have friends from Northeast Ohio that say it is their favorite event of the Christmas Season. I don't disagree, that's why I've gone back these last three years even after moving 400 miles away.

If you can make it to the westside suburbs of Cleveland by Sunday night, we'd love to have you join us. Click here for a google map to the event.

*The originators of the event still fund it out of their own pockets, sometimes resorting to printing the invitations individually in full color on our home computers. We do accept donations but have never charged admission. Once or twice we even covered our costs!


one little word

One word* is a blog... no it's a website... it's... it's...

It's your chance to respond instantly and for sixty seconds to a one word prompt and post the result as a comment. I've added it to the blogroll.

*Warning: read the "comments" at your own risk. It seems the temptation to bathroom-humor-spam is way too great to resist at this site!

technorati cosmos: oneword

advent devotional: holy night

Holy Night

Galatians 5:14—For the whole law is summed up
in a single commandment,
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

My favorite Christmas carol is O Holy Night. It’s not included in our hymnal though I’ve always thought it should be. When it was first written by Adolphe Adam, the song was attacked and denounced because of its “total absence of the spirit of religion.” Adam himself came from a non-church background but was a relatively well known composer of theatrical music.

I’ve loved the song for as long as I can remember, though I never bothered to look into its background until I was an adult. When I learned of its humble, even inauspicious, beginnings I was shocked.

The English version, translated by John S. Dwight, that we all know includes the verse, “Truly he taught us to love one another. His law is love and his gospel is peace.” Far from a “total absence of the spirit of religion,” this is the very heart of the gospel. To this day it is almost impossible for me to sing that line without beginning to weep. One wonders how the church authorities in Adam’s day could so badly miss the point.

Of course, the religious authorities in 1st century Palestine missed Jesus, missed the point of his whole life. It was the humble and inauspicious that received the message. Special delivery, as it were.

Thought for today: The next time you hear O Holy Night, remember him whose law is love and whose gospel is peace. And how God continues to use the foolish things of this world to shame the wise.

Prayer: God, help us not to miss the point of the gospel.


"Our goal with all these anti-piracy efforts is to protect the ability of the music industry to invest in the bands of tomorrow and give legal online services a chance to flourish."*

*She was guilty, but that quote I've clipped, spoken by a suit from the RIAA... come on. In the words of Wesley from the Princess Bride: "We are men of action. Lies do not become us."

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worse than a horror movie

we're having ham for dinner, that's okay.


it's being served with... with... oh, Lord have mercy!


AAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHH.... [sound of body hitting floor]

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peace from the salmon

Zalm has a wonderful meditation on peace. Read it at your own risk.

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say.

plainsong: a book to sing about

I just finished reading this great book which I had sitting around here hoping to be sold via my amazon listings. It was called Plainsong, by Kent Haruf. I decided to read it myself after recalling Greg's post about another Haruf work some time ago. I'm removing this book from my for sale listings 'cause I want to keep it.

Thank you Greg.

This is the first book I've ever read that brought me to tears. And it happened twice. I simply don't cry when reading books or watching movies. Even Field of Dreams didn't make my cry, though it was a near thing. So I was surprised during one long scene of this book, where Victoria and two old men are having a simple but extended conversation about leaving and returning, to find my face wet.

It's a simple and lovely story about various members of the population of Holt, CO: a schoolteacher named Guthrie, his two sons Ike and Bobby, a young girl named Victoria, another teacher named Maggie, and two bachelor farmers, the brothers McPherson. Haruf's writing is beautiful, elegant and never contrived. He's wickedly funny at all the right moments, but look out because when you start laughing he's got you in his spell and you're done. In a few minutes you will be weeping.

Even Gilead didn't bring me to tears and I loved that book. This book gets a 10 of 10 and now, of course, I have to read Haruf's other works: The Tie That Binds, Where You Once Belonged, and Eventide.

Next up is Sheri Reynolds' Bitterroot Landing.

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a world in white gets underway

so, yesterday we looked like this...

well, okay, not quite like that.

and today...

A world in white gets underway.

What do you think here, caption contest? Submit your entries via the comments. Winner gets a fully packed snowball, if I can toss it that far.

I'll bet Central and West Texas don't look like this today.

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because it's today

It was a Tuesday morning, December 9, 1980. I was waking up and not looking forward to school (10th grade). I usually slept with the radio on all night, tuned to WIFI 92 in Philadelphia, so I thought I was dreaming when I heard the DJ say that John Lennon had been shot. But my eyes were open.

Above me, on the wall at the right hand side of the bed was a mural, lovingly painted by my mother, of the Beatles. It's there now in that same room in the house where my parents still live. The radio station went to a commercial break without the DJ saying whether John was dead. I jumped from the bed and threw the door open to see my younger brother, Frank, sitting down to breakfast.

"Some asshole shot John Lennon," I told him as I ran to the front door.

The paper, sitting there in the fresh snow with his picture looking up at me told the story. He was dead.

It was twenty five years ago. It was today.

Imagine all the people livin' life in peace, you...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one.

NPR has three stories today about Lennon. Listen to them here, here, and here.

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this probably won't win me many friends

We're holding Christmas Day worship services at our church, but I wish we weren't. I tried to convince my boss not to do it but he's insistent (read stubborn). He thinks that not having a service on Christmas day when it falls on Sunday is quite undersirable. I think his exact words were, "That's the most asinine thing I've ever heard." He may be right but that never stopped me in the past. So the church I serve will be having a service on Sunday December 25 at 10am and I myself will be participating in that service, with joy because it's worship and I love Jesus.

In the intrest of fairness, I've asked Will to post his opposing view on his blog. He's off making a hospital visit thrity miles away right now, so perhaps he'll get to it later. Doubtless he'll make good, perhaps passionate arguments. There's certainly no lack of passion around this issue as evidenced by posts on some other blogs, blogs I appreciate very much and whose every post I read.

Like most other churches we are having services on Christmas Eve, one at 7:30 and another at 11pm. I will be preaching at llpm as well as supplying most of the music. My colleague Will is slated to be in the pulpit at 7:30pm and again the following morning.

But I'll tell you what, I'd much rather be at home with my family on Christmas morning, even though it's a Sunday. I'd much rather head over to see my parents and brother and sister that morning than have to be at church offering a worship service for people who, if they're there at all, were already there a few hours before exercising their calling to offer themselves in corporate worship.

Christmas is a major festival day in the church year. Since it's a "feast" day, it might be cool if we scrapped our service and held a communal feast that perhaps included some elements of worship, sort of like a seder meal. I probably would not attend that, but it's a wonderful idea.

Some insist that churches are somehow shirking their responsibility to worship on the actual day of Jesus' birth. That's fine but December 25th is an arbitrary choice (actually, not so arbitrary, it dates back to about 335AD and was chosen to coincide with the winter solstice and as an alternative to more pagan winter celebrations). Jesus probably wasn't even born in December. If we celebrated his birthday when it really took place we'd likely be having our Christ Mass much earlier in the year. In fact, there is still no universal observance of December 25th, Sunday or not.

The current celebration of Christmas (and I mean the winter holiday that has evolved since those ancient times) has more in common with paganism than Christianity anyway. The reasoning that says we're not honoring Jesus' birth if we don't have a worship service on Christmas Day doesn't really square with the scriptures, though it sqaures pretty well with long standing church tradition. The same holds true for Sunday as a worship day in general, it's a choice made at some point in history and affirmed throughout centuries of practice. But it's still a choice.

Yes, Christmas is a Sunday this year and that is the traditionally recognized Christian day for worship. But we're having two services on Saturday evening and though Will insists otherwise, the same people (though a lot less of them) will be there on Sunday. Scripturally speaking, there is simply no institution of any kind of birth celebration. The nativity story isn't even in two of the Gospels. Christmas itself has little ground to stand on when you think about it theologically.

One could argue that it is Christmas Eve services that are a waste of time and we should celebrate instead on the closest Sunday to the most commonly agreed upon date for the birth of Christ. From a purely theological standpoint, I find that option kind of attractive. But we've established a church tradition of celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve. I'm not sure why that happend, I had a hard time finding reliable information about the origins of Christmas Eve celebrations. My guess is that the celebration of Christmas Eve originated because of Matthew and Luke's birth narratives, which have Jesus being born at night, or at least the announcement being made at night.

What I do know is that some of the most powerful worship experiences for me personally and for the congregations I've been involved with have occurred on Christmas Eve and on Easter Sunday. The one time in my ministry career that Christmas fell on a Sunday, I enthusiastically and with great naivete volunteered to help with the worship services. It was a pain in the butt, hardly anyone showed up and those who did were, almost to a person, there out of a sense of obligation and in a foul mood. Give me an authentic worship experience on Christmas Eve over that any day.

I think it would be worth unruffling your feathers in this case, provided they were ruffled in the first place. And I know that those of you who are concerned about having Christmas Day worship services do plan on being in church that morning, at whatever church is holding them, like ours.

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how do you spell christmas? p e a n u t s

Here's a surprisingly good article about the genesis of A Charlie Brown Christmas TV special.

I agree with the mom quoted in the story,

Erin Kane, 36, is eager for her 3-year-old son Tommy to watch the program for the first time tonight in their Boston home. "The Christmas season doesn't start," Kane says, "until Charlie Brown is on."

I missed it when it aired last night, that's alright though. I just about know the thing by heart after watching it for so many years.

When, over a decade ago, a youth ministry job application asked me what cartoon character I most idenitified with, I chose Linus because in the midst of the chaos he and his blanket come to the center of the stage and recite St. Luke's Christmas story, from memory. That's one cool TV moment, let me tell you.

Says Christopher Shea, the voice actor who at seven years old spoke the part of Linus,

"People kept coming up to me and saying, 'Every time I watch that, I cry,' " he says. "But as I got older, I understood the words more, and I understood the power of what was going on. Now I cry, too."

Me too, Chris. Me too.

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how iPod could destroy civilization as we know it, mwah hah hah

Did you know that MP3 players could destroy the planet?

It's true folks. Smarter people than I will respond to data-theft-panic inducing ad in question, indeed The Register, in its prescience, already did. What I want to talk about is the writing in that ad.

Here's the text of the current ad, as quoted by The Register, first a poem:

Christmas is coming,
The Goose is getting fat,
And workers are expecting,
MP3 and video players in their hat,
Security should worry,
When devices get plugged in,
For the mobile security nightmare,
Is that hackers get to win

Then some prose:

With MP3 players soaring to the top of Santa's Shopping list, and memory capacities on them larger than ever with top end MP3s able to store as much as an average laptop, businesses and consumers must watch out post Christmas as they bring with them a very serious security threat.

There are just too many places to go with this one. Let's start with the awful rhythm of the poem. When you have to speed up your lips to say "mobile security" and soften all the consonants so the phrase has three syllables instead of six, well, you've got yourself a bad line and should think up another. Let's not even talk about what has to be done with "MP3 and video players" I don't think my lips can move that fast. And what company makes all their workers share one hat?

Staying with the verse for another paragraph, I believe it was supposed to be humorous. What do you think? I know it isn't now, what with the inane rhyme scheme and confusing phraseology. I'm left wondering what it is their trying to tell me. Hackers get to win a free MP3 player for Christmas? Any humor gave way to frustration by the third time I tried to speak the thing in a workable rhythm.

Okay, on to the prose. That's one sentence. One. May I ask why? The sentence is so long and tricky that it's hard to figure out the subject. Is it MP3 players? Or is it "business owners and consumers"? Are business owners and consumers a serious security threat? Are MP3 players? Perhaps it's Santa's Shopping List.

Or maybe it's the copy writer!

Writing tip from one who knows not nearly enough about writing but lots about reading: At the point where you need to take a breath, say between the phrases "larger than ever" and "with top end", it is possible to make two or even three sentences out of one, thereby making things much easier for the reader potential customer.

Apparently this is only an excerpt from the actual ad. The Register, mercifully, decided not to quote more. Was the rest of it as bad as this?

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if you work for the boss from hell...

...then here's what you need to know about email punctuation.

Thanks to Findory and to recruiting.com

Caution: do not follow link if you are drinking anything.

Link to ze's page page.

slacker manager outs the boss from hell

Slacker Manager posted a list of links, this was one of them.

Bad Bosses come in four varieties, says Dan Woolridge at Inside Work. These types are:

  1. The true boss from hell - just plain mean
  2. The functionally incompetent boss - despite possible good intentions, he doesn't git 'er done.
  3. The emotionally incompetent boss - you probably know the type.
  4. The positional boss - as long as it doesn't hurt her standing, she'll let it pass.

I don't know if that's an exhaustive list but Woolridge cites some interesting research about why people leave companies.

“Rapport with the boss largely predicts risk for depression and other psychiatric problems in the workplace,” says Brad Gilbreath of Indiana University-Purdue University in Fort Wayne.

According to Psychology Today, “Surveys show that up to half of all workers have a shaky, if not downright miserable, relationship with their supervisors.”

A Gallup report is equally blunt about this, “Employees leave their supervisors, not companies.” [emphasis in original]

I'm not sure why there are no links to those sources, though their findings are no surprise.

What I found most interesting was not the insights in the article, but Inside Work's tagline: business innovation + biblical insight. I admit to having a love/hate relationship with such "Christianity at work" media, but the other stories on Inside Work's main page appear, after a quick skim, to be of similar quality. The organization was spawned by the Global Comerce Network. I'll be poking around some at these sites and reserve the right to amend my initial positivity.

I did like the way Woolridge closed his article, offering some probing, scripture based questions designed to prompt self analysis. Especially the last one:

If you were the subject of the survey and were recognized as the source of turnover, employee dissatisfaction, and poor employee health, how would you respond?

Read the article by Dan Woolridge

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my poor blue baby

My blue baby is sick.

It happened yesterday [ed.-blogger was down for something like 5 or 6 hours Monday night which is why I couldn't post this in a timely manner. That, and I was incapacitated by sorrow] Sunday, just before worship, let's say 9:28am. BK was giving the announcements and I was checking the tuning on my beautiful cobalt blue stratocaster. I noticed that the tuner on my Digitech effects processor was not picking up a strong enough signal. I assumed it was a bad instrument cable which, since my only spare was at home, was still a problem. I wound up having to play my Martin acoustic through the Digitech. It actually sounded kinda cool, even with the distrortion.

Following our morning services I packed Blue in her case, picked up the suspect cable and the RP 10 and brought them all home just to make sure it was as I suspected.

It was not the cable.

It wasn't the RP unit either.

Something is wrong with my guitar and now it's in the shop.

I had to leave her there all alone. It will be seven to ten days before I can hold and play with my blue baby again. Sympathize with me!

Thankfully, a member of our church owns a music store. He was nice enough to let me borrow a Gibson SG for the next week. It will do, I suppose. But Mr. StratoRepairDude better get to work, or...

I'll have a blue Christmas without you
I'll be so blue thinking about you.
Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree
Won't mean a thing if you're not here with me.

Hurry back, Blue.

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because you won't see it unless i link to it

very. very. funny.

H/T: Mike Todd.

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UPDATE: We finished the game last night making all the right choices and then intentionally making the wrong choices to see the alternate endings. Fun stuff! I shall be interested to see what Rand thinks of next.

So after being stuck in all four ages, we made a smart move in one of them and everything started to fall into place. Having made sudden and dramatic progress in each age (we did need one hint though it told us to do something we had already done so it didn't really help us), we are now in the endgame.

Actually, we're stuck in the endgame. Got no friggin clue.

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new favorite flavor of green

Starbucks Cafe Estima (pronounced, I am told, es-teem-a, or more precisely, es-teem-aaahhh...) has officially displaced Starbucks Gold Coast as my favorite coffee blend.

As you were.

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advent devotional: the sacrament of fried chicken

On Saturdays in advent I'm thinking I'll post a couple of my past submissions to our church's Advent Devotionals. That's my plan anyway. Happy Advent, here's the first.

The Sacrament of Fried Chicken

Acts 2:46 -- They ate together with glad and sincere hearts.
1 Corinthians 15:10 -- His grace to me was not without effect.

Anna Yeager was my grandmother. She died two years ago shortly before Thanksgiving.

The most precious memories I have of her center around Christmas Eve. It was ritual for us to go to her house that night and she always made the same meal: roast pork, babiki (tiny breads with sauerkraut), and fried chicken from the A&P. That meal was a highlight of every year. There were vegetables involved too, but I was a kid and couldn't care less about those. I still think of Christmas and of Anna every time I see fried chicken in a grocery store.

As Christmases passed I grew into a busy adult. I began eating vegetables. And whatever else I was doing on Christmas Eve, I left it to go to Anna's house for the crispy Christmas chicken. Any of our few family disagreements were suspended while we broke babiki together.

Every family, traditional or not, has a Christmas ritual or two. There is a certain quality in these traditions which makes their observance into a sort of sacrament. It is the giving and receiving of grace: our family members freely offering good things to each other, fruit of their labor and their love. These are things that call us back to each other. There is power in these events to make us the kind of people we truly want to be, even if it's only for a brief time.

Thought for today: Who will God bring to me today?

Prayer: God, help me to give grace to others. Amen
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at big green, it's a tie (and blather)

Slacker Manager (that's my kind of manager, by the way) writes a sharp and subtly witted post about Tie Guy showing up at a Starbucks.

He had the same experience that I dread: some corporate drone shows up and upends everyone's experience in order to get his drink. I love the "hand on headset" imagery. I've seen Tie Guy before.

In a spirit of gender equality, I note that it is not just Tie Guys but Blazer Gals. Only a few days ago I entered my chosen haunt looking forward to some quiet reading and maybe some blogging, only to be accosted (that's the only word for it) by the sound of one loud female voice, staccato over the usual thrum, hammering corporate speak into her headset. I could write down what she said verbatim but I don't want this post to be more sleep-inducing than usual.

"Maybe she's got a bad connection," I thought. Or maybe an overdeveloped sense of her own importance.

Lisa at the bar called her drink. Then called it again when it sat unclaimed.

"I'll get it!" yelled Blazer Girl, even louder than before and obviously irritated. Everyone in the store turned to stare but she didn't notice.

Neither did she notice that other seated customers were moving to different tables so as to sit as far as possible from the center of her auditory blast circle. She eventually did leave, but for forty minutes (perhaps the longest forty minutes of my life) she spilled corporate blather all over us, pausing briefly every now and again to catch her breath and, I'm guessing here, for the party on the other end to throw up.


night of the exploding introvert

Julie N. is chiming in on introversion. She cites this article, which seems to be an expanded (or perhaps original) version of an article I linked yesterday by the same author.

Love the closing:

Although they would never tell you so, the world is a better place with introverts, Cohn said.

"They're the scholars, the scientists, the inventors, the writers, the poets, the artists," he said. "Imagine life without them - it would be a TV commercial."

The writers certainly. How many extroverts do you know who just finished writing a 50,000+ word novel in a month?

Didn't think so.


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serotoninrain film quiz no. 3

UPDATE: NBR, erudite author of Strangely Warmed has correctly noted that the dialogue below comes from Michael Mann's extraordinary film about cops and robbers in Los Angeles, Heat. The lines cited are spoken by Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in the only film scene they share.

The response to the first two quizzes was so overwhelmingly nonexistent that I decided I'd keep it up!

Nobody can accuse me of giving the people what they want.

So, here's my question.

The following bit of dialogue comes from what movie, and please also supply the names of the two actors playing the scene.

"You see me doin' thrill seeker liquor store holdups with a born to lose tattoo on my chest?"

"No I do not."

"Right. I am never goin' back."

"Then don't take down scores."

"I do what I do best, I take scores. You do what you do best, try to stop guys like me."

"So you never wanted a regular type life?"

Anyone, anyone?
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drink your coffee early and often

This message brought to you by the Society for the Preservation of Completely Useless Information. (SPoCUI)

Coffee improves short-term memory and speeds up reaction times by acting on the brain’s prefrontal cortex

So be good to your prefrontal cortex and have a cuppa joe in the morning. It will help you, at least in the short term, to remember that phone number you looked up three seconds ago and were about to dial but... what was it?

Dr. Koppelstatter (not too far off from Kuppakoffee) who directed the study says that coffee's effects on long term memory merit further study.

Sign me up.

I salute those brave souls who endured the greuling grueling (ed. - had to change that quick before Zalm sees it) regimen the study imposed:

Prior to testing, the group fasted for 4 to 6 hours, and abstained from caffeine and nicotine for at least 24 hours. Then they were then given either a cup of strong coffee – containing 100 milligrams of caffeine – or a caffeine-free placebo drink. After 20 minutes all participants underwent fMRI scans while carrying out a memory and concentration test. A few days afterwards the experiment was repeated under the same conditions but each received the other drink.

The coffee group must have been bouncing off the walls!

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