Thursday, October 20, 2016

A New Prairie Home Companion

I didn't make much time over the last couple of decades to watch Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor. It was hard to find the time to dedicate two hours to a radio variety program every Saturday night. I would catch it here and there, usually while traveling on the road. Still, it gave me comfort that this show was on the air. I remember as a kid listening to it off and on. As a kid I didn't get it. I didn't get the humor or appreciate the music. As I grew up I gained an appreciation for bluegrass and roots music. And I began to catch the wry subtlety of Keillor's dispatches from Lake Wobegon.

Even though I didn't get to listen to it much it still gave me nostalgic comfort that there was still a place on the radio that every Saturday people could listen to homespun humor and Americana music.

Well, Keillor finally hung it up. He retired after over four decades as the founder, director and host of the show. And surprisingly he turned over the reins to one of my musical heroes, Chris Thile. I've been listening to Chris Thile for over ten years ever since I first saw him on Austin City Limits. He and his group, Nickel Creek, blew me away. Then he later formed the amazing band, Punch Brothers. He is a virtuoso on mandolin, a great singer and composer. He even once received the MacArthur Genius Grant.

Thile took over this past week as the new permanent host of Prairie Home Companion. I didn't actually listen to it on the radio. I watched it. I live streamed it on my TV via YouTube Saturday night. It was a fantastic debut show. Great guests like another of my heroes, Jack White and the band Lake Street Dive. Thile's monologue was spot on and the radio bits were good. The show is going to focus more on music, which is fine by me.

I may not always have two hours each Saturday night to give it a listen or a watch. But I'm going to give it a shot. The show is a relaxing way to end the week. It takes me back to a slower, more relaxed time which may or may not have actually existed. But it's nice to think there was such a time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


So Sunday we became Methodists. Officially.

This wasn't as easy as it sounds. Kimberly and I both grew up in the Nazarene denomination. We met at a Nazarene university. Without the Nazarenes I would not have met my wife. My son would not be here. My Dad was a Nazarene pastor. It's the only denomination each of us has ever known. And it's a great denomination.

Guess the tribalism instinct is a powerful force.

Yes the Nazarene church has its issues. Too many in the denomination are too cozy with one particular political party. There has been some political mis-management which almost led to the dissolution of the Nazarene Publishing House. There's the usual petty turf wars and policy battles. You find these in all denominations. I am aware of the serious issues within the Methodist denomination. These issues were not why we left.

We love the Nazarene Church.

But today we officially entered into membership with Heath First United Methodist Church. We are excited about this new journey. We started attending Heath UMC this past January. We quickly felt welcomed. The music is great. Our Pastor is a fantastic guy. He's an inspiring speaker and has a real vision for what this church can do in Heath and the surrounding area. The congregation has been wonderful to us. It's not a big church, but it has a big mission. The neighborhoods around the church are exploding in growth and there are great spiritual needs to be met.

So yeah, I'm excited.

But also a little sad. We didn't split from the Nazarenes. There was no doctrinal dispute or political issue that drove us away. We just could no longer attend the church where my Dad had pastored the last twelve years of his life any longer. It was too difficult and sad. His memory was everywhere. We needed a fresh start. And the other closest Nazarene church, where Kim grew up, where we got married, was also a part of our past. We really didn't feel moved to return there.

We really didn't know what to do. Doctrinally we knew we were pretty much on the same page as the United Methodist Church. I have a strong Methodist heritage on my maternal side of the family. But still, it's a strange thing to leave something you've known for so long...your entire life. But God led us to this little church. This little church that's going to grow. This church has already helped us immensely. They don't even realize how much they've helped us heal after a difficult season.

So we're Methodists. It's just a name really. We are followers of Christ. And as our pastor says, we are sowing the seeds for a great awakening.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

18th and Vine

I moved to Dallas, Texas nearly twenty years ago. And I have been searching for barbecue as good as my hometown Kansas City ever since. As much as I searched I could never find anything that was close to Kansas City BBQ. And I was a bit surprised. Texas is proud of their barbecue. There are some good places. I went to dives all over DFW and North Texas. But I could not find one that just hit the right spot. Until now.

Last year I heard about some Kansas City natives who had set up a BBQ catering business and hoped to soon open up a KC style BBQ place. Soon, a few months later, 18th and Vine BBQ opened up on Maple Street near the hospital district. In Kansas City, 18th and Vine is where you find Arthur Bryant's BBQ...the godfather joint of Kansas City style barbecue. 18th and Vine was also where the great jazz clubs were in the 1930's.

About a week ago we went and finally checked it out. And it was amazing. Just like home. I had ribs and my wife had pulled pork. They were most excellent. The place has photos of famous KC jazz musicians on the walls and even Charlie Parker on the kid's menu. It's a perfect place for KC expats to hang out.

The opening of this place has made me so happy! Finally, after all these years, I can have true KC style BBQ in the town where I live. Upstairs they have a music venue called The Roost where they feature live jazz. I hope to check out The Roost very soon.

Of course the place has burnt ends. Fantastic burnt ends.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Claiborne at White Rock

I had the privilege last week to see one of my favorite authors speak in Dallas. Shane Claiborne is a writer, Christian activist and one of the founders of the New Monastic movement. He spoke at White Rock United Methodist about his new book Executing Grace. 

Executing Grace takes on the issue of capital punishment from a Christian perspective. After a 30 minute talk, a panel discussion was conducted to discuss the death penalty. 

I left inspired. The refreshing thing about Claiborne has always been the fact that he walks the walk. He lives his message in the real world. His life is the anti-thesis of the ivory tower. 

That night I picked up his new book, Executing Grace. The first few chapters have been excellent. Claiborne always motivates me to put the book down and live the truth I'm reading. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

End of an Amazing Run

It was bittersweet last night hearing the Royals had been eliminated from playing in the post-season. 

It's been an amazing run. Two World Series appearances and a World Championship. After years of futility it was thrilling to see the Royals make it back to the top of the baseball world. 

But I was a little sad because the Kansas City Royals helped serve as a nice distraction during a really hard time. My Dad was also a Royals fan. It was something we shared. He saw their run to the 2014 pennant. He passed away a month before they won the 2015 Championship. 

My son and I drove up to Kansas City to attend Game Two. The Royals won 7-1. It was the last home game of the season since KC would win the title on the road in New York. 

That was the trip of a lifetime. My son had never been to my hometown before. He saw my old house, school and got to tour my old church. He had KC BBQ for the first time at my Dad's favorite BBQ joint, Johnny's. My son saw his first game at Kauffman Stadium. And it was the World Series!

My Dad was in our thoughts the whole time. That trip helped begin the healing process during an extraordinarily rough time. Amazing how a dumb game can really bring healing to a hurting soul. 

Well, the Royals just had some bad luck this year. Injuries and one bad month. And they still almost made it back. Next year, they'll have the same core that won a series. They'll give it a good run. They will be back. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Historical Record

I have been holding back. I really don't like getting political on this blog. But this is a strange presidential election. And I want to go on record. I want the historical record clear on where I stood on the 2016 presidential election. I want there to be no doubt. In ten or twenty years, when my son asks me who I voted for, I will not be embarrassed by my vote.

There is no way I could ever in a million years ever vote for Donald Trump.

He is not a real Republican. He is not a true conservative. He is destroying the party of my Dad.

He is a racist, misogynist bigot.

He is a terrible businessman who has declared bankruptcy six times. More of his business ventures have failed than succeeded. He inherited $250 million from his father. He earned nothing on his own. If he had put that inheritance in a simple index fund he would be worth $12 billion today...without lifting a finger. But Forbes has placed his worth at $4 billion. And that is funny money. He's actually in great debt. He can't even pay his campaign staff. He is a horrible con artist of a businessman. He ruins lives. He doesn't pay his bills.

He has been married three times. He is a notorious philanderer and womanizer. All these things are well documented. He even proudly admits to his indiscretions.

His policies are ridiculous. A wall? He's going to make Mexico pay for it? That stupid idea alone should be enough disqualify him from office.

He is a hypocrite. Make America Great Again? Bring jobs back? I actually own two neckties and a dress shirt made with the Donald J. Trump label. The two ties were made in Vietnam. The shirt...China. 

He will soon be under indictment for bribery in Florida for trying to pay off Florida's Attorney General.

Why won't he release his tax returns? Because it will show how little he has given to charity and how little he is actually worth. It will also probably show his business dealings with Putin's Russia. 

He lies and lies. When confronted with his lies he double-downs on his lies. He has no shame. He just doesn't care.

He is the most prominent of the birthers, one of the dumbest conspiracy theories in history.

He became pro-life only a few years ago for political expediency.

I could go on and on and on. Any decent human being, especially those who call themselves Christian, should stand up against such a brazenly racist candidate.

I know you may not like Hillary. I'm not a huge fan either. I don't agree with much of her world view. Honestly, this is not an endorsement of Hillary. But the truth is, she is the most scrutinized woman in the history of the United States. The Republicans have paid the best lawyers and investigators in the world to find dirt on her...and they have found nothing of substance beyond mere conspiracy theories. They even had a special prosecutor who's sole job was to find dirt on the Clintons. Kenneth Starr and his full time staff could not find anything on Hillary, not regarding Whitewater or anything. They had to fall back on the President lying about marital infidelities in the White House.

The private email server scandal is a joke. Colin Powell used a private server. Condeleeza Rice had one. This is a manufactured scandal.

Benghazi? The House Republicans have held six hearings and sent out dozens of investigators to find dirt. And they have found nothing. Nothing! A waste of taxpayer money.

The fact is, after twenty years and millions spent in trying to find skeletons, nothing substantial has been found. She may be shady...but she is no shadier than any other major political figure in Washington. She would not be my first choice. But I'm not going to waste my vote on a third-party candidate like I did with Ralph Nader, who I respect immensely.

The stakes are too high. Hillary may be an imperfect candidate, who is perfect? But she will be competent in the job. She has the respect of world leaders. She has the respect of anyone who has worked closely with her, Republicans and Democrats.

The stakes are too high. Trump is the worst political candidate my generation has ever seen.

I am sickened by how evangelical Christians have rallied to Trump. Listen, as a Christian you may not like Hillary. I get it. But to endorse Trump? Your conscience will have to answer for that.

 I know this post is harsher than most found on my blog. But I will not remain silent during such an important moment. I simply wanted to go on record. We may have to agree to disagree. This post is not meant to sway you or change your mind. This post is about me. It's about me wanting to be clear where I stand. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


An ode to my NASA mug...

NASA mug, oh NASA mug.
You are mug amazing. 
Although made in China,
You represent America. American
hopes and dreams of a future fantastic. 

When I drink of thee I pretend I'm 
an engineer building rocket-ships to
the stars even though I had to take college algebra twice and still use my fingers to count. 

When holding thee I feel like a controller at Mission Control 
or a specialist at the Jet Propulsion Lab. For just an instant. 

For then my green tea is finished and 
I am teaching history again. But NASA 
mug, for just a moment...a brief shining moment, I was among the exploding stars and nebulae. 

Thank you NASA mug. 

Monday, September 19, 2016


Yesterday the Little Man served as an acolyte in church for the first time. 

I love the tradition of acolytes in the Methodist Church. I wasn't aware of the tradition, growing up as I did in a less liturgical tradition. 

Two candles are lit by kids at the beginning of the service to represent the presence of Christ in the service. There are two lights to remind that Jesus was both God and man. 

At the end of the service the acolyte recaptures the light with their candlelighter and then follows the pastor out of the sanctuary to represent the light of Christ going out into the world where believers are called to serve. 

Symbols are powerful. I feel an added poignancy to the service with the entrance and exit of the acolytes. I feel a sense of the spiritual mystery of Christ's divinity and as a Christian mystic this tradition appeals to me greatly. 

Jackson did a great job on very short notice! 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

New Cans

Last week I finally ponied up for some nice headphones. I wanted a nice high-end pair but I didn't want to go too crazy on price. The same cans kept popping up in all the tech and audiophile sites...the 
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x. MSRP is around $200 but Amazon had them for less than $150. For years I had read that suckers by Beats, audiophiles buy the AT's. The Audio-Technicas had a reputation for much better sound quality than Beats but for a lot lower price. Beats, all the sites repeated, sold based on hype and marketing. The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x were the phones you found in studios used by professionals. 

So after casually browsing reviews for a couple of years and seeing the AT's mentioned time and time again I decided to take the plunge. And I was nervous. I know there are $600 sets out there but $150 is still a good-sized investment for me. 

But my gosh, they deliver. They are the real deal. UPS had them on my porch last Saturday. I carefully opened them. I first decided to listen to Blue Train by John Coltrane on my current pair of $75 Sonys which I had been using for several years. Then I plugged in the Audio-Technicas. 


I mean WOW. 

The hype was real. The bass is powerful but not dominating. I heard riffs I had never heard before in a song I've heard a million times. These headphones are designed to play the music as intended by the artist. They don't add unnecessary mixing. Nothing is obscured by mix-happy sound engineers. You get the music as it was meant to be heard. Or as close as possible. 

I always thought my Sony noise cancellation headphones were decent. They are dozens times better than ear buds. But they sounded hollow and cheap in comparison to the AT's. I couldn't believe the difference. With the AT's I felt as if I was standing in the middle of Coltrane's quintet as they were playing. 

So I tried out different genres and styles. I listened to Beethoven and Radiohead. I gave Weezer and the Beatles a spin. I listened to Thievery Corporation and M Ward. I switched between my old Sonys and the AT's and was continuously astounded by the brilliance of the sound in my new Audio-Technicas. 

It was almost like hearing music for the first time. I am not exaggerating. Well, maybe a tiny bit. But they are unbelievably great. 

The new ATH-M50x's feature three detachable cords (two straight and one curly) of varying lengths. I don't plan on using these a whole lot on the go. They are big but comfortable. I will mostly use them at home and maybe for long trips on a plane or car. For everyday trips to Walmart or wherever I will still use my measly Apple earbuds. They also come with an adapter to plug into your home system and a nice leather bag. 

So I don't care whether or not the new iPhones have headphones jacks or not. These new headphones will make the phone adapter worth it. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Book of Common Prayer

Another excellent resource that I have adopted in my daily prayer and meditations is The Book of Common Prayer App which is now available on iTunes. 

The app, adapted from Shane Claiborne's book, leads readers through a series of concise liturgies to aid in daily prayer and contemplation. 

Here is the product description on iTunes...

Common Prayer helps today’s diverse church pray together across traditions and denominations. With an ear to the particulars of how various liturgical traditions pray, and using an advisory team of liturgy experts, the authors have created a tapestry of prayer that celebrates the best of each tradition. The book also includes a unique songbook composed of music and classic lyrics to over fifty songs from various traditions, including African spirituals, traditional hymns, Mennonite gathering songs, and Taize chants. Tools for prayer are scattered throughout to aid those who are unfamiliar with liturgy and to deepen the prayer life of those who are familiar with liturgical prayer. Ultimately, Common Prayer makes liturgy dance, taking the best of the old and bringing new life to it with a fresh fingerprint for the contemporary renewal of the church. Churches and individuals who desire a deeper prayer life and those familiar with Shane Claiborne and New Monasticism will enjoy the tools offered in this book as a fresh take on liturgy.

I have found the app a peaceful respite throughout the day. I recommend it highly.