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.