Thursday, December 28, 2006

Tryggblog: We’re huge in Brazil

(By Erik)

That’s ”Somos enormes em Brasil” in Portuguese.

If you scroll down the right hand side of this blog you’ll see our Clustrmap, a generalized atlas that shows you where in the world people who are looking at this site are located. (That was a horrific sentence. Good thing I don’t write for a living.)

As a self-styled international reporter, geography buff and — most of all — complete geek, I love looking at our Clustrmap and guessing about the people who are completely wasting their time on Tryggblog.

(Click on the small map and you’ll see a bigger version unless the Clustrmap site is overloaded, which happens on occasion — and incidentally, I almost always misspell “occasion” when I type. Comes out “ocassion.” Once again, good thing that I’m not paid to write, and thank you rolling spell check.)

The total number of hits Tryggblog gets is relatively small. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the primary two are:

1.) Not posting content on a regular basis, giving people a reason to “tune in” daily or weekly, and …
2.) Not posting content that’s of any value whatsoever — unless you’re a fan of the Georgia Bulldogs, Kent Allen and Def Leppard.

The biggest two dots on our map — i.e. the cities that give Tryggblog the most Tryggviews — are Oklahoma City (that’s mostly me checking the site to see if anybody else is looking at it) and Nashville, Tenn. (that’s mostly my parents looking at it because I never call and how else are they supposed to know anything about what’s going on in my life?)

It’s hard to tell the precise locations of the smaller dots, but here are a few other places where people are reading Tryggblog:

Brazil: We have several large-ish dots in this South American country, despite our complete lack of content relating to soccer. The hits largely are the work of Ann White, who kept up with Trygg-related events while she traveled through the area. (Check out Ann’s blog if you want to see a Clustrmap with many more dots than ours.)

Japan: “Domo arigato” to the good people of Tokyo for checking in with Tryggblog. I’ve met several folks from Mito and thereabouts — including folks at Ibaraki Christian University and the Mito Church of Christ. Perhaps Yuki Obata or his father, Shiro, are looking at the site.

Canada: There are some big-ish dots over what I believe are Montreal and Quebec City. I visited those cities (plus Jonquiere, way up north) a couple of months ago and stayed with Mike and Lise Mazzalongo (Verdun, Montreal), Keith Percell (St. Foy, Quebec) and Jean Grenier (Jonquiere). I also logged onto Tryggblog when I was at their homes — hoping it would register hits on the map. (Sad but true.) Jean Grenier was traveling through Oklahoma recently and we went to lunch at Ted’s here in Edmond. His exact words when he tried the habanero salsa — “Ooh la la!” (They treated us like kings, by the way — big shout out to Ted’s.)

Central African Republic: Tryggblog finally registered its first hit in Africa. And it came from an unlikely country — the Central African Republic. I only know one soul in this whole nation — Worlanyo Bor. Brother Bor and his countrymen have endured a lot of hardship in recent years as the CAR recovers from years of political strife.

(This post got a bit unwieldy in the writing, so I’ll return to this subject later. Still a lot of countries to cover.)

An audiobook worth downloading (especially if it's still free)

John Hodgman plugs the paperback version of his book

It looks like iTunes is back up a running after it crashed on Christmas Day (too many kids with brand new iPods, evidently). Anyway, if you go online right now you can download a free copy of the audiobook The Areas of My Expertise read by the author, John Hodgman. It’s an abridged version, but still clocks in at more than six hours of free material.

Hodgman, in case you didn’t know, is the “I’m a PC” guy from the Apple commercials. And he’s a brilliant, deadpan comedian who makes frequent appearances on The Daily Show.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Some Christmas photos

Santa makes his way down the Oklahoma River during the Devon Energy Holiday Parade.

We had our first fire in the fireplace (Jeanie's dad helped).

We had dinner at Chelino's in Bricktown and got to see some of the lights.

Here's a photo of my favorite tree ornament.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

I say Christmas, you say "Christ"mas ...

(By Erik)

On Christmas Eve (a couple of days ago) I gave the afternoon sermon at Tealridge, an assisted living facility next to the campus of Oklahoma Christian University. In case anyone's interested, here are my sermon notes. (I apologize for the broken sentences and bad syntax.)

Matthew 9:1-8 (New International Version)

1Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."

3At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!"

4Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? 6But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." 7And the man got up and went home. 8When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. This is the day I always liked best as a kid. Couldn’t get to sleep the night before Christmas, would wake up at 4 a.m.

I was actually relieved when I came to an understanding about the truth behind Santa Claus — that my parents played a bigger role in his existence than they had first let on. (I have to be careful how I phrase that in case there are any young readers out there.)

I had always been bothered by the concept that a guy in a red suit from the North Pole was in charge of my Christmas order. I was afraid that somehow he’d mess it up. Knowing my parents were in charge of the situation was quite comforting.

I knew I was getting older when I started looking forward to Christmas dinner more than Christmas presents.

I grew up in a church that wasn’t comfortable with the notion of Christmas as a religious holiday. That was seen as the stance of the “denominational” world and we didn’t want to single out the birth of Christ as something to be celebrated once per year. Some members of the church I grew up in wouldn’t even say the word “Christmas.” Our church hosted “holiday parties.”

At the time — the late 70s and early 80s — there was a movement in America to “secularize” Christmas, to limit references to Christ in public displays and school performances. And members of my church found themselves in the awkward position of supporting the secular elements of our society — who didn’t see Christ as important.

Today we’ve moved almost 180 degrees from that standpoint. There’s a large effort throughout the country to put Christ back in Christmas. It’s a kind of backlash to what we saw up until the late 1990s, I think. Anyone who tries to secularize the holiday is pounced upon by angry masses of Christians. Sometimes I’m afraid we Christians come across as being intolerant of anyone who doesn’t believe as we do. I’ve even heard a few people this year who are taking to calling it “Christ”mas.

What would Jesus say about all of this? I imagine he’d tell us that the manner and date of his birth aren’t nearly as important as the manner of his death, burial and resurrection. Instead of debating about whether or not to celebrate his birthday on Dec. 25, Jesus tells us to remember his sacrifice regardless of the date. That’s what we just did with the Lord’s Supper.

When believers get wrapped up in debates — debates about anything — we miss the point of Christ’s message. The older I get, the more I’m convinced that the central message of Jesus teaching is “you’re missing the point.” In fact, that seems to be a recurring theme throughout the entire New Testament. Look as the epistles written after Christ’s resurrection and you’ll see the apostles addressing a number of problems in the young churches. Always their message is the same — “you’re missing the point. Concentrate on the things that matter.”

When Jesus heals the paralytic in Matthew 9, what does he say first? “Take heart, son. Your sins are forgiven.” How would the paralytic young man react? “Well, thanks, but I’m here because I can’t walk.” And what’s the reaction of the teachers of the law? “This fellow is blaspheming!” No man has the authority to forgive sins? Only God can do that.”

But who was Jesus? Jesus was God. Remember the words of the first chapter of John:

John 1:1-2 (NIV)

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.

John 1:14 (NIV)

14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,[d] who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

And how does this man — this Word who put on flesh, the son of God — how does he respond to the religious teachers? “Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk?'” What’s more important — forgiving sins or healing infirmity? If you think it’s more important that this young man walks, you’re missing the point.

He teaches us a similar lesson as he calms the waters of a terrible storm. Look at Mark 4:36-41

Mark 4:36-41 (King James Version)

36And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.
37And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
38And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?
39And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
40And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
41And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

What is Jesus telling his disciples? You’re missing the point. You’re focusing on the wind and the waves and forgetting that the “master of ocean and earth and sky” is right here in the boat with you. Focus on what’s important. The storms of this life will pass — and I won’t let you drown.

It’s so hard to focus on Jesus — on what’s important — when there’s so much grief and pain in the world. Our nation is at war, and a lot of our soldiers in the Middle East will be spending Christmas away from their families. We’re even talking about sending more troops overseas, and it seems that we’re facing war without end.

The Bible class my wife and I attend at Memorial Road is called the Just Starting Out class. It’s a class for young married couples and in recent years it’s been the congregational baby factory. One of these couples is foremost on our hearts today because their baby — a 6-month-old girl — is in the pediatric intensive care unit downtown at the University of Oklahoma hospital. The baby started having seizures about two weeks ago and hasn’t stopped. It’s been an especially intense experience for me because my wife, Jeanie, is one of the doctors treating this child. Right now that’s where she is. The baby’s family and my wife are going to spend Christmas Day in the hospital.

Sometimes I think we squabble about Christmas, or “Christ”mas, as a way of drowning out the real problems that we have in this life. We focus on minute details because we have real suffering, real pain that we’re trying to block out. But Jesus reassures us that he is the master of all, and most importantly that there is a life after this.

And what happened in that manger more than 2,000 years ago grants all of us eternal life. It’s so hard to focus on that through all the “noise of life,” but sometimes we find that sorrow and war are the very things that help us focus on what is important.

I want close by reading you a short piece written by Steve Valentine. Recently we did a story for The Christian Chronicle titled “Worship in a war zone.” We asked soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to tell us what it’s like to attend church services in the military. We discovered that there are at least six Churches of Christ meeting in the Baghdad area.

Sgt. Valentine, an Army reservist, served for 15 months in Iraq and worshipped with a church in Taji, a city about 20 miles from Baghdad in the volatile Sunni Triangle you’ve probably heard about on the news. He wrote the following account:

(Read Sgt. Valentine's account here — it's worth clicking on this link promise!)

Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV)

4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

'The lats are brat at nat'

(By Erik)

Stole this from Ann's blog. Purty accurate, as far as I can tell. What do y'all think?

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The South

That's a Southern accent you've got there. You may love it, you may hate it, you may swear you don't have it, but whatever the case, we can hear it.

The Midland
The Inland North
The West
The Northeast
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Feeling the (complete lack of) heat

(By Erik)

I’m sitting here in my rather cold office. Since the students (and some of the professors) have gone home for the holidays, the heat is off here in the Bible building. We have space heaters, but mine blew a fuse in my office. So I'm picking blogging over heat right now.

We were warned about this early last week, and it reminds me of an e-mail conversation that floated around the Bible building among the faculty and staff. I kept a transcript and am reprinting it here.

Names have been changed to protect the innocent — namely me, since none of the Bible faculty knows I’m doing this.

It started when a staff member, “Victoria Walters,” informed us that the heat would be off during part of the holiday break.

Bob Plumber: “So, does this qualify as ‘news hot off the press’ (or as ‘hot news for the press,’ at least as it applies to the folks at the Chronicle)?

Chet Kiwi: “Let’s just have a heated debate about that question, Bob. I’m betting that comment will receive a cold reception, though.”

Curtis Nikon: “I think this is what happens when we send our degreed professors to a national convection. As Origen said in his work against Celsius, ‘Send me a thermos stat.’”

Bob Plumber: “Oh, boy, this is really starting to snowball now! I just hope the conversation doesn’t drift off into absurdity! But then, considering some of the flakes who have been weighing in so far …”

Curtis Nikon: “Bob (Sled) Plumber, I hope you are not wishing to precipitate a host of cool replies from your colleagues. There’ snow ay I would respond in kind. Ice rink from such pedantry, from being puerile as the driven snow. You get no icy retort from me, my friend. As Descartes said, ‘I thawed, therefore I am.’ De-luged with these silly e-mails, I’ll-pine for the good old days when every Jane norDick felt any compulsion to respond to every single missive received. Let sleeping dog sleigh.”

Victoria Walters: “As our colleague Richard Poe so wisely said, ‘Cool it.’”

Curtis Nikon: “Alas, we will always have the Poe among us.”

Chet Kiwi: “If you can’t take the heat …”

Cline Antwerp: "My esteemed colleagues, if you were in Australia at this time (as we are), where summer is just beginning (104 degrees yesterday), this silly discussion would have never taken place. Festus was right, 'Your great learning is driving you insane.'"

Homer Shankson: "Insanity may explain some of what’s going on."

Bosworth Floss: “We’re feeling the heat here at the Chronicle as it’s deadline week. Please put the discussion on ice as we’ve got our feet to the fire. And, by the way, thanks for the laughs. With warmest regards ...”

That effectively ended the conversation (Bosworth can be such a killjoy.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Podcast problem resolved

OK. We've got the problem resolved with the podcast. Those of you on the campus of Oklahoma Christian and Memorial Road should be able to hear it now. Let me know if you can't.

Listen to it here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

In case you can't hear the podcast ...

For those of you on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University or the Memorial Road Church of Christ, the links I've created to the Kent Allen podcast are being blocked by OC's filtering software. (Evidently OC considers my content to be inappropriate for the young minds on this campus! Ha!)

I've got an e-mail in to the administrators to lift the ban on the podcast. Meanwhile, the second link to the material (Flash version) seems to be working, but I can't get it to play on my computer here at the office. I'll work on an alternative and post it as soon as I can.

Sorry for the inconvenience!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Podcast: An interview with Kent Allen

(By Erik)

As many of you know, Memorial Road Church of Christ is saying goodbye to our minister of 25 years — Kent Allen. We just had a farewell dinner for Kent and his wife, Phyllis. I prepared a podcast interview with Kent for the program. Here's an audio link to it on the Internet. Please give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Listen to it here.

If you have trouble opening the file, try accessing the Flash version or look for a variety of formats here.

Friday, December 01, 2006

More snow pictures

The storm has moved east, but the snow is going to stick around for a bit.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


We measured about four and a half inches of snow and ice. (Our unscientific method involved opening the garage door and holding a ruler against the edge of the white stuff).

Ho ho ho! It's snow snow snow!

(By Erik)

We're in the middle of our first winter storm of the season. It started yesterday when temperatures dropped like a rock and clouds moved in. We've had a night of freezing rain followed (finally) by some Christmasy-looking snow. Now we're getting a mix — and some thunder. It's pretty cool.

Jeanie was on call last night and had to drive back in the stuff at 7 a.m. She made it safely and is sleeping now. I'm here enjoying our warm and comfy den. The power's still on and Oklahoma Christian is closed for the day. (I brought some work home with me just in case.)

I'll go get a photo of it a little bit later.

Time for some coffee!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Some thoughts on Thanksgiving from the original George W.

(By Erik)

Jeanie and I were at the mall yesterday and saw Christmas decorations, gifts and trimmings aplenty. And yes, we saw Santa, too (from a distance. I didn’t go get in line to see him or anything. Jeanie wouldn’t let me. I promised her I wouldn’t cry when I got up there to him, but she didn’t believe me).

These days it seems like we skip Thanksgiving and go straight from Halloween to Christmas. There are tons of Christmas commercials on TV already — and none of them are very Christmasy, either! For some reason Target and Old Navy, two stores we frequently frequent, have released Christmas commercials that I find especially cold and sterile.

There’s no red and green — just blue and white (evidently, the new Christmas colors). And instead of Santa and stockings, there’s a white-haired, Warhol-looking European designer saying, “I have created for you a winter wonderland.” Where’s the love?

Anyway, back to Thanksgiving.

Have we lost the true meaning of Thanksgiving? Have we demoted it to “Practice Christmas Turkey Day?”

To jog our memory, I present this excerpt from George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation. It’s rich with faith language — and it really made me stop and think.

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

We talked about this a bit in our Bible class this morning at Memorial Road. We were in Matthew 26, talking about the Lord’s Supper and how it took place during Passover. We talked about what the Passover means to Jewish people and what the Lord’s Supper means to us. Have we lost sight of that as well?

I think that George Washington would have made a great preacher.

If he wanted to write for the Chronicle, though, we’d have to have a little chat about run-on sentences!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Vive Quebec!

(By Erik)

I'm back from a trip for The Christian Chronicle up north. I spent a few days visiting churches and missionaries in the Canadian province of Quebec. It was a bit on the cold side at times, but it was a great trip. Imagine a rainy, snowy land full of good-natured, French-speaking Midwesterners and you've pretty much got the idea. And its cities look a lot like Europe.

I'm including a few photos I took in Montreal. These aren't my best, but they're the only ones I have access to here at the house.

Here's a shot from downtown Montreal. It was raining, as you can tell. The older sections of the town look very much like Europe.

Here's a shot from the top of the "mountain" near the middle of Montreal. Mike Mazzalongo, a missionary and minister for the Verdun Church of Christ, was our tour guide.

Mike told me that Montreal was the site of the world's first hockey game. Here's a poster advertising the play The Canadiens, which shares its name with the city's celebrated NHL team.

Here's a shot of my rental car. Turns out Quebecers do drive on the same side of the road as us. Boy, is my face red! (But it's healing. The doctor said I could be eating solids again by the end of the week!)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Who do I look like to you?

(By Erik)

Here's something Ann's blog pointed me to. It's pretty cool, but it's being WAY too kind! Great to know that I look a little bit like Abdullah Gul? Does anybody know who he is?

(I've had to move the image off the site since it was messing up the rail on the right. If you want to see it, click here.)

A few more memories from the Classic City

(By Erik)
During our recent trip to Georgia I was able to swing by Athens (the "Classic City") and reconnect with Connie and Terry Norwood. Terry is an elder of the Campus View Church of Christ, and he and Connie have been adopted parents for hundreds of students in their decade of ministry. (That's Connie in the photo, talking to one of the new graduate student at UGA just outside Sanford Stadium.)

I wrote a story about the Norwoods for our latest issue of the Chronicle. If you have a minute, please give it a look and let me know what you think.

I can't say enough good things about the Norwoods or the Campus View church. I feel like I grew more as a Christian in my three years in Athens than I did in my four years at a Christian university. I'm glad I went to both schools (I wouldn't have gotten my job at the Chronicle — or met Jeanie — without my connections in Nashville) but I'm especially glad I had the opportunity to be a part of the Campus View family for a while.

Here's a photo that relates to the story about the Norwoods. I love the sign. (Sorry the photo turned out kind of dark).

Here are the Cosgroves, a Campus View couple that served as my "Adopt-A-Dawg" parents during my first year at UGA. They live on a big piece of property out in Oglethorpe County and regularly have the gang over for bonfires and horse riding. Great folks.

Last but not least, here are some current members of the Georgia Christian Student Center, ready for the game. There hasn't been all that much to cheer about in Georgia football this year, but at least we pulled out a win over Mississippi State this past weekend. The guy on the far left is the son of Harold Shank, one of our new Bible professors here at Oklahoma Christian University.

Click on any of these photos to see larger versions.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

PHOTO: Jesus 'tween the hedges

(By Erik)

Here's a photo I took outside of Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., just before the start of the Georgia Bulldogs' game against the University of Tennessee. Just a few feet away are the stadium's historic hedges.

It was a heartbreaking loss for us Dawg fans, but not nearly as heartbreaking as the at-home loss to Vanderbilt one week later. For those of you who don't follow Southeastern Conference football, I'm trying to think of an apt analogy. But the only analogy I can think of is, "That's as bad as losing to Vandy!"

What can I say? It's a rebuilding year!

We'll post some more information about our Georgia trip soon.

Monday, October 16, 2006

ALBUM REVIEW: Freddy Mercury is back from the dead — and he's praising Jesus!

(By Erik)

A couple of days ago I bought Wide-eyed and Mystified, the latest album from Downhere, on iTunes.

The band’s song, “A Better Way,” has been getting a lot of play on a local Christian station. Another song from the album, “The More,” is in heavy rotation on the Christian alternative station. The rest of the album is equally great.

“A Better Way” begins with Jason Germain’s vocals on the verses. The first time I heard the song I thought, “eh, this is nice.”

Then came the chorus, and the high-tenor voice of Marc Martel kicked in.

“Whoa, this guy sounds a little bit like Freddy Mercury,” I said, and the thought of the late, flamboyant frontman of Queen singing spiritual songs gave me a giddy thrill. I kept waiting for a Brian May guitar solo.

(Most of the hair-metal bands I loved in the 1980s, including Def Leppard, were heavily influenced by Queen, by the way. A lot of them, including Leppard, performed at a tribute concerns after Freddy died of AIDS in 1991.)

“A Better Way” reminds me a lot of “Under Pressure,” a duet by Queen featuring Freddy and David Bowie. (The famous bass line from that song was sampled without permission by Vanilla Ice for the infamous hip-hop hit “Ice, Ice, Baby.”)

Even if you’re not a Queen fan or even vaguely familiar with the band (if you’re my wife, for example) you’ll still love this album. Most Christian music fans will be more comfortable with comparisons between Marc and Kevin Max of DC Talk. He has that kind of a voice, and it’s a great counterpoint to Jason’s vocals on the album.

I was concerned that Wide-eyed would be lyrically thin after hearing “A Better Way,” a beautiful, but simple, expression of Christ’s love for us. But the album has some exceedingly clever lyrics. My favorite song is “The Real Jesus.” Here’s a sampling:

Jesus on the radio, Jesus on a late night show
Jesus in a dream, looking all serene
Jesus on a steeple, Jesus in the Gallup poll
Jesus has His very own brand of rock and roll …

Jesus started something new
Jesus coined a phrase or two
Jesus split the line at the turning point of time
Jesus sparked a controversy
Jesus, known for His mercy, gave a man his sight
Jesus isn't white

Jesus loves the children, holds the lambs
Jesus prays a lot
Jesus has distinguishing marks on His hands

I don't care if they got it off a Christian-bookstore bumper sticker, that last line gives me chills.

Friday, October 13, 2006

'Go ahead, lead all four verses'

We stole this from Bobby and Tamie's blog, but it's too good to keep to ourselves!

Here's what all the 728b kids will be asking for this Christmas — Song Leader Revolution!

Learn more about the video and it's creator here:

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Trying out a new mapping program for our blog

(By Erik and Jeanie)

We haven't been updating this blog very regularly. Apologies for that. But we've just added this cool program that will show us where people are who are looking at our blog (assuming anyone's looking)!

Locations of visitors to this page

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Two guys named Erik

(By one guy named Erik)

Imagine how confusing it was to be named Erik and to have a roommate named Erik (also spelled with a ‘k’).

That was my life 10 years ago when I was a graduate student at the University of Georgia. My roommate (through three apartments, I might add) was Erik Benson, a doctoral student in the history department who grew up in Michigan.

Dr. Benson and his wife, Dawn, live in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Erik is a history professor at Cornerstone University (that’s him in the center of the photo if you click on the link). Dawn, who has a master's in journalism from UGA, works on the university's publications.

Benson (as I call him to avoid confusion) was in Oklahoma this weekend for a history conference at Oklahoma Baptist University. Jeanie and I met him for lunch in Bricktown. It was his first trip to Oklahoma since our wedding.

It was halftime during the Georgia-Colorado game, and Colorado (complete with its 114th-ranked offense) was up 10-0. Benson could see the TV in Chelino’s, so he gave us score updates. (Georgia just barely pulled it out at the last second and won 14-13. Whew!)

It was great having another Georgia fan around for the afternoon, and it was great hearing about Benson and Dawn’s adventures (including burning their feet at the Taj Mahal in India).

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A classic case of 'man bites panda'

Here's a snippet of a story that appeared on the BBC's Web site today:


Man bites panda after zoo attack

A drunken Chinese tourist says he bit a panda who attacked him after he jumped into a zoo enclosure to "hug" the bear.

Zhang Xinyan, 35, had drunk four draught beers before deciding to enter the Beijing Zoo pen belonging to six-year-old male panda Gu Gu.

The startled Gu Gu bit both legs of his intruder, who responded by biting "the panda on its back", Mr Zhang was quoted by state media as saying.

Mr Zhang said he had not realised pandas could be violent.

He told the Beijing Morning Post that he had come to the Chinese capital "only to see the pandas".

"The seven-hour train ride was exhausting, and I drank bottles of beer when I arrived then had a nap," he added.


When asked to describe how the panda tasted, Mr. Xinyan said, "It was finger Ling-Ling good."

(I stole that joke from The Simpsons, of course — ET)

Monday, September 18, 2006

A giant casket on the side of the highway ...

(By Erik)

Yesterday I filled in for a minister in Minco, a small town about 30 minutes north of Chickasha in western Oklahoma. I taught the Sunday morning Bible class and did the sermon. I had a great time.

In case you're interested, I'm including a few of my sermon notes. I started things off by telling a little bit about the trip Jeanie and I took to Austin, Texas, recently. Click here to read a blog piece I wrote on that. The intro and conclusion of the sermon were basically the intro and conclusion of the blog piece.

A lot of these notes are sentence fragments. Apologies.


A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from a missionary in Africa who told me about a ministry for children with autism and other special needs at the Brentwood Oaks Church of Christ in Austin.

The ministry had just baptized a 15-year-old autistic boy, Alex, who had learned to communicate by pointing at the letters on a printed page. This kid was amazing. After he learned how to communicate, his mom found out how intelligent he really is.

• Didn’t realize the role this ministry played in giving the parents of these children a sense of hope, and much-needed time to worship the Lord — and time together.

• Also didn’t realize what an outreach it was, how kids from outside the church — outside Christianity even — came to be a part of the ministry.

• What struck me the most, though, was Alex’s mother and her reaction to her son’s condition. She explained that Alex had taught her that she can’t do everything for herself. God put Alex in her life so that she would start to get a glimpse of her own dependence on God.

Now, those who don’t believe in God would consider kids like Alex to be unfortunate, scientific anomalies. Genetic mistakes that we should learn to correct. But God uses kids like Alex to enrich the life of Brentwood Oaks and Alex himself teaches us about God’s love for us and our need for him. It’s amazing how God works through us to change the very meaning of the things around us.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

6Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him.

30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

There are plenty of examples of God using the weak — or apparently weak — to shame the strong. Most of us know the story of David and Goliath, how a 9-foot giant was slain by a boy with a sling.

Most of us also know the story of Gideon, from the book of Judges. God chose Gideon to fight the Midianites, but just before the battle he reduced the size of Gideon’s army.

Judges 7: 1-7

1 Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh.

2 The LORD said to Gideon, "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, 3 announce now to the people, 'Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.' " So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained.

4 But the LORD said to Gideon, "There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, 'This one shall go with you,' he shall go; but if I say, 'This one shall not go with you,' he shall not go."

5 So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the LORD told him, "Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink." 6 Three hundred men lapped with their hands to their mouths. All the rest got down on their knees to drink.

7 The LORD said to Gideon, "With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the other men go, each to his own place."

God uses small things. Here we have a specific case of God saying, “This is why I’m doing this — so no man can boast.”

The fact that we all rely on God for our being is emphasized throughout Scripture, including the book of Romans.

Romans 9:20-21

20But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' "[h] 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

I used to think that these verses meant that God meant some of us for greatness and some of us for common things — some of us to be ministers for churches with thousands of members and others of us to be the people who show up every Sunday and unlock the building and fill the communion cups. (My father-in-law does that, by the way).

But if you look at the context, that’s not really the point Paul is making in his letter to the Romans. Right after verse 21 he talks about “the objects of his wrath” that are “prepared for destruction.” So the “common” objects here may refer to those who don’t follow God. I don’t think that God considers any of his followers to be “common” people — even if the world does. There is no “common purpose” in the church.

Look at the life of Stephen if you want proof of this. Stephen is described as a great man of faith, but when we first hear about him in Acts he’s chosen for what seems like a very “common” purpose

Acts 6: 1-6

1In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.

2So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."

5This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The next time we hear from Stephen, he’s arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. He makes a stirring speech about Jesus, and it costs him his life.

Acts 7:54-60

54When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56"Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

57At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." 60Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.

I’ve always imagined the Sanhedrin talking amongst themselves while Stephen is telling them about Jesus so boldly and asking, “Who is this guy, anyway? Is he the leader of this sect of Christ followers?”

“No, I think he runs the church’s food pantry for the widows.”

Sometimes God transforms the very roles and labels that we give each other.

The reason Stephen was willing to die was that he realized the transforming power of God — and how through his Son, God transformed the very meaning of death itself.

A friend recently told me about a conversation he had while riding in a car with a coworker on I-35. They passed the giant cross next to Life Church. The coworker, who isn't a Christian, said (trying to irritate my friend, no doubt) "What would people think if I built a giant casket right next to it?"

That’s what that is! Way to go! You got the point!

The Romans never intended for the cross to be sold in every Wal-Mart in America. It was never intended to be a symbol of hope. It was a symbol of cruel torture. But Jesus transformed the meaning of the Cross.

He transformed the meaning of death itself.

1 Corinthians 15: 54-57

54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."[g] _ 55"Where, O death, is your victory? _ Where, O death, is your sting?"[h] 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

It constantly amazes me how God can change the meaning of our lives.

• A weak boy with rocks and sling becomes king of great empire.

• A tiny army beats the odds and defeats a huge foe while barely firing a shot.

• The administrator of a church pantry becomes a martyr whose death ignites a wave of persecution. That martyr becomes a symbol of faith, and is the spark that ignites a worldwide phenomenon.

• A Roman instrument of torture becomes a worldwide symbol of hope

• A small church in Minco, Oklahoma, becomes a beacon of hope for an entire community.

• And a boy who science considers a genetic miscalculation teaches an entire congregation about overcoming adversity and the power of belief.

1 Corinthians 15:58

58Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Another Saturday, another shutout

(By Erik)

How ‘bout them Dawgs!

The Georgia Bulldogs rolled to an easy 34-0 rout of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, Blazers just a few minutes ago. It was the Dawgs second-straight shutout. They beat the accursed Steve Spurrier and the Gamcocks 18-0 at South Carolina last week. (Steve subsequently made himself all the more accursed by using profanity to insult his own team in the press conference after the game. The man has absolutely no class.)

It’s the first two-game shutout since our 1980 national championship season. (Not that I’m making a prediction or anything. We’ve got a freshman quarterback and a LOT of tough opponents to play!)


Friday, September 15, 2006

This takes me back!

1978 Kenner toys Star Wars commercial

(By Erik)

As you can guess, I had most of these. (The radio-controlled R2-D2 went off the market quickly, if memory serves. It didn't work very well.)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Dawgs done good

(By Erik)

My Georgia Bulldogs shut our Steve Spurrier and his South Carolina Gamecocks 18-0 tonight. Not a pretty game — we threw three interceptions — but we got the job done.

How bout them Dawgs! We're 2-0 in a rebuilding year.

Monday, August 28, 2006

I've been yelling at the TV again

(By Erik)

Why aren’t commercials for the Olive Garden even remotely funny? Why is every “joke” they tell completely devoid of humor?

Seriously, next time you see an Olive Garden commercial, please tell me if you think it’s funny. Please limit your responses to 200 words or less.

For some true commercial hilarity, enjoy It’s a Web site featuring TJ and that other guy on the Sonic commercials. It’s really fun. See if you can guess TJ’s favorite drink.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Petition to promote Jerry Lamb to "planet"

(By Erik, with assistance from Jerry Lamb)

As most of you know, the International Astronomical Union yesterday downgraded Pluto to the status of “dwarf planet.”

This diminutive (and, in my opinion, pejorative) classification no longer entitles Pluto to be recognized as a planet, putting it on the level of a glorified asteroid.

No longer can it get 20 percent off of its order at “Planet Sub,” nor will it be eligible for free parking at Planet Hollywood. And John Gray has been forced to rename his bestselling book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, But Nobody’s From Pluto Because It’s Not Even A Planet.

We also understand that during this weekend’s Emmy Awards’ after-party Pluto has been “downgraded” from the table with Garry Shandling to the table with Gary Busey.

In light of these developments, we’d like to petition the IAU to upgrade the status of Christian Chronicle advertising manager Jerry Lamb from “non-planet” to “planet.”

(This is Jerry's actual work ID photo — and further proof that he deserves to be his own planet.)

On top of being a world-renowned “swell guy,” we feel that Jerry meets all of the criteria for being a planet.

According to the IAU, a planet is a celestial body that:

1. … is in orbit around the Sun

No problem. Jerry claims that, with few exceptions, he’s been revolving around the sun for years.

2. … has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape.

Jerry has dedicated much of his life to overcoming rigid body forces — the very forces that force most of us to take actions deemed “societally appropriate.” Jerry said that he also had his hydrostatic equilibrium checked recently, and it’s well within “round” parameters. (Although his cholesterol is trending high.)

3. … has cleared its orbital path

Jerry’s done a great job of this. There are plenty of people who refuse to go anywhere near him. He once ran a fellow motorist off the road for incorrectly using her turn signal. Jerry, who is consulting with me as I type this, added, “Yeah, I’ve got a ‘clear orbital path’ — thanks to fiber.” That’s precisely the type of comment that demonstrates why other potential planets steer clear of him.

Please take a few moments to sign this petition by leaving your name (and blood type — optional) in the comment section of this post. Let’s all show our support for Jerry so that he might finally attain the “planet-sized” recognition he so richly deserves.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Shoehorns and yak cheese

(By Erik)

I love reporting international news. Here are a couple of snippets from the BBC with links to the full stories:

Yaks say cheese in rural China

Villagers in Langdu, western China, are taking advantage of improved infrastructure and help from NGOs to develop a sustainable yak cheese industry, Simon Montlake reports. …

The village of Langdu is starting to feel the impact. It is a community of ethnic Tibetan yak herders who live in an isolated fir-lined valley not far from the border with the restricted Tibetan Autonomous Region.

EU tunnel crossing ends in farce

Two Egyptian men are awaiting trial in Russia after several attempts to burrow their way under various European borders using nothing but shoehorns.

The men - both believed to be in their 20s - started in Belarus and dug a tunnel under the border with Poland.

But once in Poland, they lost their way, ending up where they started - in front of barbed wire.

Thinking they were now looking across the German border, the pair did the trick again.

But instead of getting to Germany, they ended up back in Belarus.

Minutes later, the two men were arrested by Belarussian border guards and later sentenced to 10 days in jail.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

From the home office ...

(By Erik)

I've been with The Christian Chronicle for five years and I've received numerous blessings from it.

And now I have a great office, too.

I'm in Bobby Ross' former office (which more formerly was Lindy Adams' office). Lindy and I agree that it's one of the nicest spaces on campus. Bobby's moved next door to Bailey's former office and Tamie Ross is in my old office.

Jeanie helped me pick out the wall color ("Sahara Sand") and the border. The couch is from Savannah, Ga., and is the last remnant of my bachelorhood. Jeanie was happy to get it out of the house.

My father-in-law picked this particular decoration out for me at a garage sale. GO DAWGS!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The world at our dorm steps

(By Erik)

This year we’ve got some new students at Oklahoma Christian University from the nation of Rwanda. Most of them arrived on campus recently. They’re here through a scholarship program that was announced when the Rwandan president visited OC earlier this year.

The students who got here earlier in the day were treated to a lunch of chicken and steak fajitas in the student center.

Here’s Allen Thompson, on the right (not the baby), talking to one of the Rwandan students. Allen is from Ethiopia and is actively involved in the missions organizations on campus. Allen’s got a great story, too. You can read some of it in this story about the film “Invisible Children.” Allen is mentioned near the end of the story.

Dan Hays, our men’s basketball coach, was one of the first people to greet the new students. He kept asking them how tall they were and if they knew what a “free throw” was. (Just kidding!)

I love this photo. Mike O’Neal, OC’s president, introduces one of the new students to his grandson.

Here’s Michael Cady, the controller for the school, with a couple of the students. Michael and his entire family (brother, sister, their spouses and kids, plus his dad and mom) were in Belize earlier this year as part of the mission team I joined, coordinated by Windle and Barbara Kee. You can read more about that here.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

My Summer Vacation (or some semblance thereof)

(By Jeanie)

OK, my husband is hounding me to write something that he could post on the blog, so here goes …

The life of a resident is interesting. When you combine the lifestyle of a resident with that of a roving international reporter you sometimes end up with what I will call organized chaos (some would say it is more like mass chaos).

Well, I guess my summer vacation actually started in April when Erik’s family came out to Oklahoma. We went to the zoo, the arts festival and generally showed them around OKC. With residency you get three weeks of vacation, this was my second week.

In May I took my third week. Erik had been in Zimbabwe, so he could not take too much time off of work. We did get to go to Dallas and see the School Book Depository. Following Dallas we spent the weekend seeing most of my family.

Then there was June. I was back on the wards. I won’t go into too many details, but it was a rough month. It was very busy. You get four days off and are on call six days of the month.

Then comes the magical transformation. In July I became an “upper level.” I started on an elective in Hematology/Oncology (kids with cancer and blood problems). This was not my first choice, but I won’t go into that either right now.

I was in my good friend Karen’s wedding the first weekend of July, and at the end of the month I got to go to Diabetes Camp (Camp Endres). I had a great time. I went trying to decide if diabetes was something that I was interested in pursuing as a profession. (Endocrinology is the field — and they really do take care of more than just diabetes.)

My cabin was a group of 15 12- and 13-year-old boys. These guys were amazing. They really tried to manage their disease. I was there to teach them, help them adjust their insulin and monitor their blood sugars. It was very hot and my good friend from residency Katherine and I went together. I wished that I could have stayed all week. I really missed the kids after I came back. It did make me feel like I had a summer.

Now it is August, and the real work has set in. I am in the nursery right now, which is probably the hardest rotation for me. You never know what to expect. We also have to carry this phone that rings until you answer it. It could be a nurse asking if a baby can go home, but it also could be the OB’s saying they have a 25-weeker (or worse, twins — or triplets) that are on their way.

Well that wraps up my summer vacation. Hope this is interesting to someone!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Not so Burkina Faso, mister!

(By Erik)

Jeanie just got back a few days ago from diabetes camp. She spent the better part of a week counseling and testing kids with diabetes — and she loved it.

I’m VERY proud of her, by the way. I don’t get to say it much here, but what she does constantly amazes me. I lucked out in the spouse department.

(Several of you have felt compelled to remind me of that.)

Anyway, while she was gone I actually turned to housecleaning as a means of occupying myself. I finally sorted through some boxes full of stuff my parents brought when they visited us last November. It’s all stuff they had to box up when they moved from Macon, Ga., to Spring Hill, Tenn.

I found a bunch of small flags in one of the boxes. I collected them when I was in high school. I went to a bunch of “model United Nations” events (since the football team was full). If you never had the great pleasure of going to a model U.N., you basically pretend you’re an ambassador and you represent your country on various committees, etc.

Yeah, it’s a thrill a minute. I know that’s what you’re thinking. But back in high school I couldn’t get enough of it. It gave me an appreciation of foreign countries — and a collection of small flags.

Now that I’ve been able to travel outside the country to cover international church news, I have a separate collection of little flags of the countries I’ve been to, and I sort of have this rule that I can’t buy a flag until I’ve been to the country that flag represents.

So now I have this whole host of nations I feel oddly compelled to visit to “earn” the flags I purchased back in high school. Just for fun (and because Jeanie’s asleep and I’m again trying to occupy myself) here’s a list of the places I need to go:

Burkina Faso — “Where?” is usually the response I get when I mention this landlocked country in western Africa, bordering on Ghana. I “represented” Burkina in a model U.N. in Washington in 11th grade. I was in the International Monetary Fund meeting. Each country got a number of votes based on how much money it put into the fund. The United States got 6,771 votes (or some number like that). I got one. We got to visit the Burkina Faso embassy and talk to an ambassador. She spoke French.

I really do plan to visit Burkina someday. Jeanie’s friends Andy and Melissa are missionaries there. I’ve gotten to know Andy, mostly through e-mails. Great guy.

Denmark — I collected all the Scandinavian flags at some point. I’d love to experience Copenhagen (the city, not the tobacco product).

Germany — I took two years (zwei jahre) of German in college, but have never set foot in the country. I have been to Austria, though.

Greece — There’s tons of stuff I’d love to see here. Greece is the word.

Holy See Papal State — Yeah, I actually represented the Vatican at some sort of model U.N. I kept trying to tell the other Catholic countries to do what I said. They didn’t listen.

The Vatican actually has its own government, situated in downtown Rome. Not sure if you have to show your passport to get in or not.

When we did our Missions Sunday at church I think Neil Arter carried this flag. It was listed as one of the “unreached countries.” I’m guessing it would be pretty hard to plant a Church of Christ in the Holy See.

Iceland — We had some friends in Macon from Iceland. They went to visit and came back with T-shirts that said “Hard Rock Café: Reykjavik.” I’ve wanted to go ever since.

Israel — Maybe not the safest place at the moment, but I would love to go there and visit the Churches of Christ in Nazareth and Jerusalem.

Latvia — I have no idea how I got this flag. And I was SO CLOSE back in 2002. I went to a conference in Estonia, which is next door. Along with Lithuania, these countries are the Baltic states, formerly part of the Soviet Union. Estonia was great, by the way.

Malawi — I’ve been hearing about this little African country since I was 5. Our church in Macon supports Jimmy Judd, a longtime missionary here. I think this country also has the highest concentrations of Churches of Christ in all of Africa. I definitely want to see it for myself.

Norway — This is my hands-down, number-one, gotta’ go there country. My great-grandfather came over in 1910, and I think it would be really cool to lead a contingent of Tryggestads back in 2010. Maybe we can even find the little farming village we’re named after. We’ll see.

Sweden — Norway’s next-door neighbor. They kind of view Norwegians like Georgians view Alabamians.

Yemen — This would no doubt be the hardest flag to "earn." Not the easiest country to get into (or out of)!

I represented Yemen (next to Oman and Saudi Arabia) in a model U.N. in Macon, just a few months after the first Gulf War ended. The other countries on my committee were trying to pass a resolution punishing Iraq and demanding reparation payments.

Representing Yemen, I was the only voice of opposition to this. I kept trying to tell the other countries that if they came down too hard on Iraq, it would only lead to a second Gulf War. That's not exactly what ended up happening in real life, but still ...

I think I also told the representaive of Burkina Faso that he was being a dink. (He was another kid from my school. And he was.)