Monday, June 30, 2008

There and Back Again

We're back from our MYF service trip to Elkhart, IN, where we weeded and weeded and then weeded some more.

Here's the group, minus sponsor Trish, who took the picture:

Here's everyone expressing their joy for weeding:
David reached a state of Nirvanic bliss at one point, and learned how to levitate:
Here's youthful joy at learning about thrift shops:
David taught me how to levitate. It was pretty cool.
Here they are in front of the chapel. They were a great bunch.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Gone Fishin This Week

I am out of commission this week, off to Elkhart, Indiana for a service trip with the high schoolers from my church. We are volunteering for Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. I assume this will involve clearing the brush of sacrilege from the green spaces of orthodoxy, or wiping the stain of sin from the student housing of temptation, in order to leave a clean start for incoming seminarians (although we can't do much about their original sin).

We are also going on a Mennonite heritage tour. We'll visit the historical MennoHof Museum (or Mennonite Hall of Fame, as my daughter once called it) as well as tour MCC, MC-USA, MMN, and all those other Mennonite-titled denominational offices. Also, we'll let Goshen College's admissions recruiters have a crack at the youth, which we are hoping will include food or marketing swag of some kind. My hopes are not high, though, since Mennonites are not great self-promoters, and free stuff in the service of marketing doesn't flow nearly as easily as free stuff in the service of disaster relief or poverty assistance.

If all goes well, our high schoolers will be freshly programmed and indoctrinated Mennonites by the end of the week, and spend the rest of their lives helping others in a shy, introverted kind of way.

Friday, June 20, 2008

What Happens After Atonement Ends

"Irony" by Andrew Miller, published in Geez Magazine.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

More Shameless Promotion of Old Friends

I got an email yesterday from one of my oldest friends and earliest college roommate, James Combs, with fun news about his music career.

I met him back when he was just Jim at Carroll High School in Ft. Wayne, and also when he was one-quarter to one-fifth of The Goats (depending on the band's configuration at any given time). As it happens, Brownie and Fingtree (frequent commenters on this blog ) also made up one-quarter to one-fifth of The Goats, and I sure wish they were playing in the attic of the house next to me right now, instead of my neighbor's kid's band.

For the record, I was the unmusical fan/roadie/interloper/mascot of The Goats, and I do believe I was 100% of whatever that was.

Anyway, James is currently living the life of an independent music artist in LA. He is also featured on Yahoo's User's Choice this week. If he wins, he gets to reach potentially millions of listeners by performing live on Yahoo's "Who's Next" session.

So go vote for James, early and often. The URL is

While I'm at it, I've also been meaning to plug FingTree, aka Kent Fingerle and the Oral Minority Band, who musically spoof Dubya and others. His myspace page of music is here. Brownie, you need to get your music online so I can plug it too.

Update: Andy Burnett from my old Spyglass days requested a plug for his band, Rubber Universe. I always thought Andy should be in a band based on his name alone, which sounds exactly like he should be the bass player in a Pink Floydish, Alan Parsony band. See his band's myspace page here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Throwing Rocks at Pacifists

My Smile Politely column is up. It's about rock throwing and being an mediocre pacifist.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Buckley vs Chomsky

I found the debate below fascinating. It’s William F. Buckley debating Noam Chomsky in 1969, each respectively the voice of their generation for conservatism and liberalism. It’s a bit long (18 minutes), but well worth the time:

Three observations:

  1. It is refreshing to watch two people with such diametrically opposed opinions be so civil with each other. I forget what the world was like before Limbaugh and O’Reilly starting peeing all over it.
  2. It is interesting how very relevant this debate is to today’s political context. For example, Chomsky’s observation that he knows of no real case of “disinterested” military action that does not benefit (economically or otherwise) the nation that is doing the invading.
  3. Chomsky seems to win most debating points brought up by Buckley. It makes me wonder: Does civilized discourse favor liberals or is Chomsky just a lot better debater than Buckley?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Iron Man Review

This week's Smile Politely column is a review of Iron Man, where I claim it is the best super hero movie that I've seen, admit to the guilty pleasure of enjoying movies like this, and then make a gratuitous reference to Dubya in a flight suit.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Tabs of Saran

Amidst the usual offers of replica watches, hot stock tips, cheap generic drugs, male enhancement guarantees, and warnings that Barack Obama is a scary black Muslim who hates America, I received something by email the other day that was both useful and true. It warms my heart to know that email has not entirely lost its usefulness yet, and that a needle of truth is still to be found in the haystack of daily spam.

Also, pleasantly, it was from my Mom, who views email the way a lot of people from her generation view it – as a way to forward:

1) heartwarming stories of love and faith

2) pictures of kittens doing adorable things

3) urban legends that warn about some common household product that has killed thousands of people
Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy hearing from my mom via inspirational stories. It makes me feel connected to her in a way that arguing about politics somehow doesn't.

Also, my brother the shameless librarian has complained to her so often about forwarding urban legends that she now checks before sending them out, and as a result, it’s been a few years since any urban legends have made it past the new filter.

Anyway, last week she sent this, which when translated from no-nonsense housewife speak, says this:

Your aluminum foil boxes contain tabs at the end of the box. If you push them in, it keeps the roll from coming out every stinkin' time you use it.

I had no idea. Just today, I tried it for the first time on a box of Saran Wrap. The clouds parted, the heavens opened up, and the plastic wrap stayed in the box. It was like some kind of space-age miracle of modern technology.

I’m sure this would make a great metaphor for something. It’s something that was always there, and available as a tool to avoid frustration, and I was always blind to it. Hmmm. I guess if I knew what it related to in my life, I wouldn’t be blind to it anymore.
I’ll have to keep this in store for some future revelation, and hope that my friends aren’t too cruel in their suggestions about which blindspots I might want to start seeing.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


Without any of the fanfare that I was hoping might surround such an event, I am now apparently a published writer. I know this, because three of my Mennonite friends now claim to have seen My Ensemble Experience in the June 2nd issue of The Mennonite. Sure enough, when I go to their website, it is linked from the main page. Yeehaw!

I had sent it in about a year ago, and the editor gave me a vague promise that it might appear in some future issue. I contacted him again a few months ago to ask about it, and he said it could be any month now. I guess I’ll receive official word any day now, plus hopefully a check, since I’ve already blown most of the payment on a family ice cream trip to Cozy’s Custard to celebrate.

My definition of a professional writer is merely that I get paid for the work I do. It’s not unlike being a professional computer scientist, garbage collector, or prostitute. Although I’ve had a column with a real editor at Smile Politely for a few months now (which I’ll be sure to claim as professional experience for the next query letter I do), getting paid and being in a print magazine seems like another step beyond that.

For all of you who have been regularly checking my occupation listing in my blogspot profile, you’ll note that I’ve now changed my occupation from “blogger” to “writer-dad.” Making the edit turned out to not be nearly as satisfying as I thought it would be. That’s probably because one paying gig in a year isn’t exactly the pace I had planned to make. Nonetheless, it's a start.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Loyalty Oaths

This week's Smile Politely column is a somewhat muddled discourse on loyalty, the Constitution, and integrity: "Would You Sign a Loyalty Oath?"

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


It’s the last day of school here in Champaign, which comes with a mixed bag of emotions and expectations. Two of my kids are giddy excited about the freedom of summer and one is sad because she loves school and organized activities. One was singing Alice Cooper this morning.

I will get to stay up later at night and sleep in later in the morning, but the extra structure I now need to provide to the kid’s days will seriously cut into my writing routine. Following Jill’s inspiration of the last few summers, we will institute a home policy for the kids of one outing, one work project, and one fun thing to do each day, as defined by the parents. We do a pretty good job at this at the beginning, but by the end of summer, making your bed counts as work and an afternoon popsicle counts as the fun thing.

My writing goals this summer are to:

  1. Get a Smile Politely column up once a week.

  2. Finish a short story. I’m hoping the week the kids all go to camp will contribute heavily to this.

  3. Post at least 2 blog entries per week. I’ve been getting in almost one post per workday over the last 6 months, but I doubt I’ll be able to keep that up this summer. I know, I know, how hard is it to put up a video of some creepy preacher I found on the internet? It’s actually harder than you might think, given how many I have to reject that are inappropriate. You might also find it hard to believe that I do reject videos for inappropriateness on this blog. My filter might be loose, but I do have one. And the internet is a scary and dangerous place, I'm told.
The kids' one hour of school today is almost done, so this post must end. At right is what it feels like right about now. It looks like it could be fun, but the rocks at the bottom are not pictured.