Monday, December 17, 2007

Send me a man who reads.

When I was a child by family subscribed to “Reader’s Digest.” I was always the first one to grab it. The second thing I did was go through and read all the jokes. But the very first thing I read, even before all the jokes and cute stories, was an ongoing ad series by The International Paper Company. It was a series of biographies and vignettes about people and what they liked to read. The title and punch line was always “Send me a man who reads.” ( I understand that this series ran in several national magazines in 1960-61.)

The whole point of the series was that reading is the single most affective habit and the greatest skill we can possess. There is no greater predictor of success in life than how much and what a person reads.

I am constantly amazed at the amount of information available on virtually every subject. There are books, magazines, videos, conventions, conferences, trade organizations, and on-line forums on any and every thing a person can think of. The bottom line is this: there is no excuse for ignorance.

For a Christian, primary reading should be the Bible, but after that the possibilities seem endless. The Bible has inspired more writing than any other subject in history. There are commentaries, study guides, insights, and opinions on anything a person would ever need to know.

But reading other subjects is also worthwhile. I would not consider any major endeavor without first reading everything I can find on the subject. Before we opened Homer’s Coffee House, I read six or seven books about coffee for example. I am constantly amazed by people who have very limited knowledge about an activity that they are deeply involved with, when all they need to do visit the library or a bookstore and find tons of literature about the subject.

It’s simple – “just send me a person who reads.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

There is a lion in the street!

Ever since I have been involved in retail, I have been trying to figure out the relationship between the weather and the amount of customers. This week I finally figured it out.

The weather has very little effect on business, but the weather forecast has a lot. Monday and Tuesday the television news was filled with gloom and doom – we are all going to die – news of an impending ice storm. Throughout those days we had steady rain, but the temperature remained near or above freezing with little to no ice on the streets. Business was down by 50%. (Other areas did fair worse, but our city dodged the ice.)

Finally the fear mongers got tired, the temperature dropped into the 20’s, and today with icy streets, business is back to normal. Would somebody like to explain this to me?

Proverbs 22:13 says, “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside!’ or, ‘I will be murdered in the streets!’” Ecclesiastes 11:4 says, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.”

The victory belongs to the ones who are willing to go out and face the world, not huddle in front of their TV’s hearing about how bad things are. This applies not just to the weather, but in every other situation as well.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Jumping to Conclusions

The other day, two ladies were setting in the window at Homer’s. I asked if they needed anything else and one committed on the neighborhood being rather shabby. (Keep in mind that we are in one of the top 5 or 6 counties in the nation in per capita income.) I asked why she thought that and she said, because they had been setting there for over an hour and had not seen a single cab go by. I asked where they were from and she said Detroit. I presume there are neighborhoods where the taxi drivers don’t want to go in Detroit.

I decided to not explain that everybody in Overland Park has 2.3 cars and there isn’t much need for taxis. I also didn’t point out that the taxis we do have are unmarked Lincoln Town Cars. I volunteered to call them a cab, and sure enough when the cab arrived it was a silver, unmarked Lincoln.

A few days later a young man asked me what nationality I was. He was amazed when I told him that I was an American and, in fact, had lived in Kansas my whole life. He said he was quite surprised because I had a deep voice and American’s have high pitched voices. As near as I could tell he was an American. I don’t know where he had been.

This week a well-dressed man came in asked us to steam some milk, pull a double shot of espresso, and then pour the steamed milk over the espresso. I wrote “latte” on the ticket. He apparently he didn’t know that he had just described the most basic coffeehouse drink there is. I presume he also walks into McDonalds and asked them grind some beef, fry it on a grill, and put it in a bun, not realizing he had just described a hamburger.

It just keeps getting weirder out there folks.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Music, food, & drink

Somebody has probably done a study on this, but there seems to be quite a difference in what the fans of different performers eat and drink. At Homer’s Coffee House, for example, some are a bit predictable and some are not.

It is not surprising that when Randy Davenport plays that we would sell a lot of brewed coffee and apple pie because he plays country with patriotic themes. More surprising is that Kenny Gamble fans would eat so much carrot cake.

I don’t know why Bob Jenkins fans drink decaf lattes. I don’t know if it is because Bob is stimulating enough without caffiene, or they just are planning on getting to bed early.

I would be surprised if the high energy guitar sounds of Sky Blue would bring in the soy drinkers. But soy and herb teas seem to fit The Subs just fine.

Mission Blues fans drink a lot of milk shakes. Maybe it is because they heat up the place.

Maybe I will do a more detailed survey. This may be a whole new branch of science.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Disposable vs reuseable

It is a common misconception that young people are more environmentally conscience than older people. My experience shows the opposite to be true. College age and younger people are about ten times more likely to request disposable plates and cups than older people. But last night was still amazing.

Three young people (college age) came in and ordered pie. As I began to serve them pie on glass plates with stainless silverware, they asked if they could have them to go. I put the three pieces of pie in styrofoam boxes (which I hate to do), put them in a plastic bag and tossed in plastic forks. They paid the bill and immediately went over and sat down at a table, took out the boxes and began eating out of the styrofoam boxes with the plastic forks.

I went over and told them that I would be happy to put the pie on plates or give them "real" forks, but they said no, they were fine.

This is not that unusual. Eating out of plastic boxes is uncool enough, but the intentional waste of resources is inexuseable. With this sort of cavalier attitude toward single-use items, it is no wonder this country consumes far more than our share of natural resources.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Keep the main thing the main thing

The new Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City opens this week; the same week that Gary Forsee lost his job as the head of Sprint. In addition to spending millions for naming rights for the new arena, Forsee oversaw the merger with Nextel and was well respected in community affairs circles.

Unfortunately he missed one little issue – Sprint telephones don’t work. I was one of the thousands who left Sprint for another carrier after years of frustration with weak signals, dropped calls, and just plain lousy sound quality. I now enjoy talking on the phone again since I can understand what the other person is saying and I don’t live in constant fear of missing calls or loosing the signal in mid-sentence.

The lesson here, for the rest of us, is simple. Remember to keep the main thing the main thing. Don’t get distracted by side issues while ignoring the basic product or service you are trying to provide.

The same is true in our personal lives. Our relationship with God and others is the main thing. It is easy to get caught up in less important issues.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Praising vs Performing

I play in the Christian blues/rock band, “Sky Blue” in addition to my church’s praise band, so, I think a lot about the differences. The purpose, and therefore the focus, of the two are quite different. The purpose of the praise band is to lead worship, to help people see God more clearly. The focus is on the Lord. The purpose of the blues band is to entertain and the focus is on the audience. This results in some dramatic differences in the approach.

At church we do simple songs that the audience can sing along. We do not want to detract from the worship with either bad playing or virtuoso playing. We want the music to be transparent. The challenge is to keep the music from being a concert.

In Sky Blue the opposite is true. Even though a secondary goal is for people to see God more clearly, the primary focus is on the audience. We want them to know that Christians can have fun and make great music. We want them to go away thinking “What a great band!”

Two bands, two purposes, two approaches to performing – it can be a challenge to keep the two sorted out. Granted, it is easier for me because in Sky Blue I play a lead instrument and sing. In the church band, I play bass and don’t sing, so the two are dissimilar to my brain..

Most of the people reading this are probably in the same situations. What is your experience?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bicycles

The other day some friends stopped by for coffee in the middle of their bicycle ride. They commented that the two miles from their house was quite a ride. Since I have ridden over 100 miles in a day on more than one occasion, I was not too sympathetic. When they left I noticed that they were riding “Cruiser” bikes, the kind with fat tires, wide soft seats, flat handlebars, and not very many gears.

My bicycle is not exactly the newest technology, but it does have narrow tires to reduce rolling resistance, drop handle bars for better weight distribution and better aerodynamics, a narrow seat that is actually more comfortable in the long run, and 12-speeds for hills.

I figured there might be a life lesson here. Sometimes the comfortable way is not the best way. Like pedaling a heavy cushy bike compared to a light responsive bicycle, taking the easy way out may result in a lot less satisfaction in the end. God never intended for us to be comfortable all the time. He expects us to attack life with gusto. That Lazy-Boy chair and big screen TV may be barriers to a contented and satisfying life. We need to stretch ourselves and maybe go for what looks like a little discomfort. It may be that, like that dropped handlebar, skinny-tire bicycle; it is a whole lot more satisfying in the long run.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

90 and going strong

Today I attended a birthday celebration for a friend who turned 90. Bill was a pilot. He began flying DC-3’s for TWA in 1942. He met his wife her first day on the job as a flight attendant. They have been married 58 years.

In 1977, when the FAA said he was too old to fly passengers, he moved to Pakistan and then South America to keep flying. He returned to Kansas where he has been an encourager and an inspiration to thousands of people.

Bill never misses an opportunity to talk about his faith or about the great life God has given him. Because their life is filled with friends and vitality, you would never guess their age. Both Bill and Evelyn seem twenty years younger than the calendar indicates.

I often talk about the need to finish the race strong, and here are two people who are doing it.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Music Fans?

At a music conference I attended a few months, one of the speakers committed that only about 10% of the population is music fans. I was surprised by this statement because I thought everyone (well, almost everyone) loved music. I quickly realized that this percentage depends a lot on your definition of "fan."

His definition of a music fan was simply someone who liked a wide variety of music, could listen to a song all the way through, could identify different instruments and styles of playing, and could recognize virtuoso playing when they heard it. It turns out that there are not as many people in this category as most musicians believe.

The speaker was a radio consultant – the type of person that record companies hire to try to get their records played on the radio. His comment was in response to a question about why radio stations play the same tedious, unimaginative, handful of songs over and over when there are tens of thousands of recordings released every year, most of them quite good. He was explaining that radio stations are not as dumb as they seem because the vast majority of people don’t want to hear anything new and most people have very limited taste when it comes to music – probably because they only listen to a handful of boring unimaginative songs over and over again.

This would explain why it is easier to get ten thousand people to pay $75 to go to an arena, where they can’t see or hear, to see a well known performer than it is to get one hundred people to go to a much more intimate setting, with great sound, to see a solid band for fraction of the cost.

I became aware of this year’s ago when I would invite friends over to listen to music – usually a new artist that I wanted to share. I always came away frustrated because before the first cut was through they would be talking over the music about something else. I quickly learned that not many of my friends were anywhere near as interested in music as I was. For the next twenty years, music became a very personal thing where I would discover new artist, buy their records, become fans, and never tell anybody else. Only recently have I developed friends with similar interests that I can share music ideas with.

I guess the point is: God made us all different. We each have our own interests and passions. I seldom watch a football game all the way through and I would have a great deal of difficulty telling the difference between one play to the next, or one position to another. I couldn’t tell you when deer season starts, but I know the difference between a Telecaster and a Stratocaster. Isn’t it great that God didn’t make us all the same?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Be careful who you hang with


Homer’s Coffee House hosts an open mike jam session every Monday night during the summer. This is a time designed to promote community and give new or first-time performers a chance to play. At the same time it gives more established performers an opportunity to play songs that they might not normally do.

We just go around the circle and give everybody a chance to play and sing. The variety of people who show up each Monday is amazing. It is not unusual to have a person who has never sung in public before do a number followed by professional rock and roller singing a country or folk song. We never know what is going to happen.

I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Some nights everybody sounds great, and other nights, it seems, everybody is struggling just to stay in tune. The reason, I believe, is that we are greatly influenced by those around us. If there are two or three people in a row who are having a hard time carrying a tune, the next person up, even if they are an experienced musician, is likely to struggle to stay on pitch. Conversely, a few good musicians elevate the whole group to do better.

I think this principle applies to other areas of life as well. If we surround ourselves with quality people, we are likely to perform better ourselves. The opposite is also true. If those around us are goof-offs and low-achievers, our own expectations are soon going to be diminished. This does not mean that we should totally avoid people we think are somehow “inferior,” but it does mean that we need to choose our friends wisely. It means that we need to be in a positive work environment if we want to accomplish great things.

Years ago, I played music with a guy whose favorite saying was, “Dumb is contagious.” Turns out that he was restating what the book of Proverbs says when it cautions us to not be companions of fools, but rather associate ourselves with people who will help us learn and grow.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Craftsman Part II

A friend was in last week lamenting about the quality of workmanship from the people who had come to repair her apartment. I concurred about how hard it was to find people who knew how to do stuff. I wrote about that in this blog back on September 8. Then I pointed out that our educational system is upside down with the best students discouraged from learning a craft. This leaves us with the lowest performing people doing the most important work, like repairing cars and putting on roofs.

This is contrary to scripture where the Bible tells us to work with our hands and honor those who do. When God came to Earth as a man, He chose to do so as a craftsman – Jesus, the woodworker.

I was reminded this week that a big part of the problem is the way craftsman are portrayed in the media. I happened to be watching “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” The set-up was that this four year old was showing great promise as an appliance repairman. I thought they were going to show a four year old who had dismantled his mother’s washing machine or a kid with the vacuum cleaner in pieces on the floor. Instead they showed a little boy bent over with part of his behind showing. I wonder how many hundreds of young people decided not to be appliance repairing repairmen with that one clip. I know if I was a sixteen year old with plans to go to technical school, I would have reconsidered after seeing just that one ten-second clip.

What the video really showed was that TV producers consider themselves better than appliance repairmen. This is a premise I would seriously doubt.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Servanthood


My mother and I just returned from an Alaskan cruise aboard the Royal Caribbean ship, “The Visions of the Sea.” It was a fun trip, but the thing that impressed me most was the crew.

There were 755 crew members from 51 different countries on board. Needless to say they came in all shapes and colors from many different backgrounds. The one thing they had in common was a servant’s heart. Along with that came a strong work ethic and a desire to please, not only the passengers, but each other.

We made an effort to get to know some of the crew and find out a little about them. Some were taking time off from college or right out of school, others were seasoned professionals, while I’m sure others just needed the money. But they honestly respected each other and worked hard to make the cruise a wonderful experience for everyone involved.

One of the crew members commented that the crew was like the United Nations except that here they actually liked each other. My observation is that at the U.N. the purpose is to defend your countries honor at all cost; on board ship, the purpose is to work together and get the job done. This makes a huge difference. I half jokingly suggested that we should fire the United Nations and give the job over to the crew of a cruise ship, after all most of the nations are well represented. I honestly believe that a solution could be found to most of the world’s problems within a few days.

Jesus talked a lot about being a servant. He emphasized the importance of having a servant’s heart and looking out for the other guy. As usual, we have the wrong people in places of authority. Usually, only those looking out for themselves make it to be leaders of their countries. Ambassadors are then giving the job of honoring their country and its leaders. Few have any desire or motivation to actually solve problems and help those in need.

Unfortunately, I didn’t encounter any ship crew members who wanted to go to the U.N., they would rather serve each other and their guests.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Simplicity

Several years ago I was doing both still photography and video work. I decided to drop the video because it wasn’t that much fun. I later realized why. Still photography takes a slice of life and distills it down to a clean glimpse. It seeks it tell the story in a small rectangular slice of time. Video, on the other hand, adds chaos to an already busy world.

That is why I don’t watch television. When I get home, I have had enough sound, movement, and color for the day. I don’t need manufactured stimulus to distract me.

Simplicity is a concept that seems to get short changed a lot. I see many places where complication and layers of complexity are added with little reason. For example, since I have a background in sound systems, I pay attention to things like microphones and speakers. In many places, wireless mikes have replaced wired microphones, adding complexity and unreliability with little other benefit. Every sound guy knows that wired mikes sound better, have less noise issues, and cost a lot less than wireless. Why then do they spend hundreds of dollars on microphones, receivers, and batteries for a mike that spends its life on a stand?

Cars are another example. Hybrids are big news, but they are exceedingly complicated. In the long term, that means unreliable and expensive to repair. Diesel cars are simply by comparison, get similar mileage, and last several times longer. Yet diesels have been slow to catch on in the U.S., possibly because they are simple and don’t have the high-tech image of the hybrids.

The old adage K.I.S.S., Keep It Simple Stupid, has gone out of favor. We have added layers of complexity to even the simplest pleasures such as shopping for music and talking on the telephone. I believe our lives would be a lot better if we looked for simple solutions not the most complicated solutions. The Bible says to aspire to a simply life. I am not ready to join the Amish, but I think they make some good points. A simpler life is a better life.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Yes, there is a story.

The other day couple of men were at the counter at Homer’s Coffee House. One of them picked up a copy of my book, “Saving the World, One Latte at a Time, The Story of Homer’s Coffee House.” He read the subtitle out loud and then declared, “You mean this place has a story?”

I didn’t say anything, but it sure struck me as odd. After all, every place and everybody has a story. In retrospect, that may have been the dumbest comment I’ve heard in months. Not everybody writes their story, but they certainly could. Certainly, everybody business has a long and interesting story. The hours, days, and years, of planning and sweat that make up even the most modest enterprise could easily fill a book.

Our lives are a story that we play out day by day. Our lives open like a book before us we play out our lives each step of the way.

Does this place have a story? Stories are written here everyday. People meet, get married, and start lives together before our eyes. Business deals are made and lives are changed over a cup of coffee.

I feel sorry for those poor saps who don’t see the stories, don’t know the stories, or are even surprised there is a story.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Life is Good

I saw a car with both a “Life is Good” decal and “Darwin” emblem. I agree that life is good. I believe we need to protect life, cherish life, and live life in all its forms to the fullest extinct. But the “Life is Good” idea and the Darwin emblem are a big contradiction.

Life is good because a creator god created us and every living thing. He gave us each a place, a time, and a purpose. It is pleasing to God, and to ourselves as well, when we seek that purpose.

Darwinist believe that we are here as a result of some great accident of time and space. Therefore our only purpose is what we create for ourselves. It certainly takes a lot of brain work and self-searching to find a good life in that.

One of the characteristics of this post-modern generation is that they are comfortable with contradictions. They can readily accept opposite beliefs at the same time. Others of us have a hard time believing that there are such things as: jumbo shrimp, liquid gas, original copies, constructive criticism, military intelligence, and a just war.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Thin and Rich

“You can be both rich and thin if you have self-control.” I think of that when I walk by the cookie case at Homer’s. The cookies seem to call louder than my desire to stay fit. Sometimes the cookies win, sometimes I win, but it is always a struggle. My favorite drink is still a milk shake. That wasn’t too bad back when I was six feet tall and 150 pounds. I am still six foot, but it has been a while since I saw 150, so I must limit the number of milk shakes I drink.

As for finances, the basic principle is spend less than you make. If we do that over time we will accumulate wealth. If we spend more than we make, we accumulate debt.

One of the fruits of the spirit from Galatians 5 is self-control. Self-control in our spending and self-control in our eating have clear long-term affects. The opposite of self-control is gluttony. Gluttony is a sin that has as much to do with over-consumption as it does with over-eating. We can over-consume in all kinds of areas from our houses and cars to the clothes we wear. Over-consumption is rampant in American society. Self-control is out-of-style.

I want to be thin and fit, have money in my pocket, and be a person known for self-control. They all go together.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Beauty

A few weeks ago The Washington Post ran an article about an experiment they ran. They asked world famous classical violinist, Joshua Bell, to play in the subway. He played a 45-minute concert of some of the world’s most beautiful music on a $3.5 million Stradivarius violin.

Only one person recognized him, and one other stopped to acknowledge that this was a superb music performance. The vast majority didn’t notice.

This does not surprise me at all. Every Friday and Saturday, during our concert times, people come into Homer’s Coffee House where I work, order their drinks and leave – having never even glanced at the stage.

Just about every week, somebody will comment to me about a magic moment on stage, a debut performance of a great song or a career best solo by a jazz artist, that had gone mostly unnoticed by the audience.

I don’t know what this means. It may indicate a lack of arts education in the schools, but it probably just means that we are too busy or too wrapped-up in our own affairs to pay attention to what is going on around us.

I describe myself as a musician, a photographer, and writer. What that really means is that I am an observer of life. I try to look for things of beauty around me. I might try to capture them with a camera, write about them, or show it to the world somehow through music. As a photographer it seems that my job is to look for beauty in God’s creation, and then force people to look at it by putting it in a box and hanging it on the wall.

I hope that if I heard great music in a subway station I would stop to listen – I have in the past. But I have probably missed a lot to.

God gave us beauty for our enjoyment. I believe we please Him when we take the time to do so.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Contentment

I had the privilege Sunday to make my debut with my church praise band playing bass. I play pedal steel guitar with Sky Blue, and before that, Dobro with Electric Prairie, but it had been a while since I had my trusty bass out of the house.

I began playing bass in 1964 and bought my current bass new in 1970. It is a Gibson Les Paul and every time I play it I am reminded of how much I love that instrument. Every few years for the past 37, I have gone to a music store to look at new basses, and I have never seen one that matches the tone, beauty, or craftsmanship of my old Gibson.

Needless to say, I am very content with the bass. I began thinking of other things I have that I have no intention of ever replacing – either because I consider them perfect, or I like them just the way they are.

Number One – my wife, she’s perfect.
My car – a Volkswagen Passat. If it ever wears out, I will buy another just like it.
My Emmons pedal steel guitar.
The National Tri-cone pictured on my profile.
My cat – Bonnie (she’s purrr-fect too.)
Wrangler jeans.
The leather chair that we bought 35 years ago.
The JBL speakers sitting in my living room.

There are a lot more, but you get the idea.

The Bible says to be content with what you have. Don’t go striving after newer, bigger, flashier. Sure, we can make improvement in our lives, but being content with what we have is the basis for true joy and happiness.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My Rolex

In 1976 I bought a used watch from a friend. It was a Rolex Daytona Cosmograph. I paid him $150 for it. I wore it everyday for the next half dozen years. During that time I spent about $600 to $700 keeping it running. This included sending it to Switzerland once for a clean and lube. It was becoming apparent that wearing an expensive watch everyday was not practical – a little like commuting in a Ferrari.

One day I was at a trade show in Chicago when a man offered me $1200 cash for the watch off my arm. I sold it to him on the spot and went to Dillards the next day and bought a Swatch for $50. I couldn’t have been happier. I loved the Rolex, but it was becoming a burden.

Paul Newman was photographed several times wearing a watch exactly like mine, and that model has since become known as the “Paul Newman Watch.”

Not long after that I began seeing ads wanting to buy Rolex Daytonas for $3,000 and up. The current book value is $17,000 with a recent auction high of $84,000.

Do I regret selling mine for $1200? Not at all. Sure, I would rather have $17,000 than $1,200, but, to me, a $17,000 watch would be a real burden. I could never wear it, and keeping it safe and in good working order would be a chore.

Hebrews 12:1 says, “Let us lay aside every weight…and run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Expensive watches, cars, or guitars are not bad things, but they can certainly weigh us down. I know people with cameras so expensive that they never take them out of the house, musical instruments so expensive that they never get played, and cars so expensive that they never get driven. I guess just knowing that you have them can bring pleasure, but to me they are burdens that keep us from life.

The watch that I wear now, I bought at a kiosk at Oak Park Mall. It is not a Rolex, but it works just fine and when it quits, I will throw it away and buy another one.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Ability to Communicate

A friend of mine, who happens to be a college professor, told me the other day that his definition, or the minimum requirement, of a Bachelors Degree is the ability to communicate. A person with four years of college should be able to communicate, both verbally and in writing, in a clear concise way. I had not really thought about it before, but that seems to make sense. If that is all we learn in the pursuit of a B.A. or B.S. degree, it has been worth it.

At Homer’s Coffee House, we can tell in less than ten seconds if an applicant is someone we want to hire. It is all in their communication skills. If a person speaks clearly, looks you in the eye, and speaks in complete sentences, they are in an elite group. Chances are if that is the case, they can write clearly as well.

The ability to speak and write clearly is a primary indicator of future success in life.

Jesus was a master communicator. He was able to attract thousands to hear his stories and teachings. He didn’t have a college degree, but clearly he understood the importance of being able to make his thoughts and ideas clear.

Speaking and writing doesn’t come naturally to most of us, but instead requires work, training, and practice. Understanding the importance of communication is a good first step in making your dreams and vision a reality.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Christian Independent Artists Conference


From March 30 through April 1, Sunny Sundberg, Rob Robinson, (from Spirit's Wind) and I were in Nashville, Tennessee for the CIA Summit. (That is Christian Independent Artist, not Central Intelligence Agency.) The Summit is sponsored by Indieheaven, an organization for independent Christian musicians and performers.

The conference was a hit on three levels: entertaining, informational, and spiritually challenging. A common theme seemed to be calling or mission. Several times we heard the statement: “Do it for the mission and the provision will come.” Understand your vision or your purpose. Margaret Becker said, “If you don’t have a vision, someone will gladly provide you with one, and it will benefit them, not you.” If you know “the why” the “what” and “how” will follow.


To see photos and read the whole report, click here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Why I Believe

I believe that Jesus is God, that he came to earth in the form of a man and taught a lifestyle based on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I also believe that He is coming back some day, and that whether I am alive or dead, I will meet Him in the sky and live with Him forever in a place called heaven.

But I could be wrong. Jesus could be just a myth or at best a good teacher. If that is the case, I will have lived a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, and when I die, I am dead – end of story.

But if I chose to not believe and I were right; my life would probably be characterized by greed, self-indulgence, and trying to find happiness the best way I could.

On the other hand if I chose not to believe in Jesus and I were wrong and Jesus really was God and everything He said was true; I would live life my own way and then on that judgment day sometime in the future, face an eternity in a terrible place usually called hell.

To me the choice is plain. I would rather believe Jesus and be wrong that not believe Him and be right.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Friends and Fans

This morning I had breakfast with a group of men I see on a regular basis. As I walked in one of them said, “Hey, you look like Johnny Cash,” referring to my black pants and black jacket that I wear about 75% of the time. I laughed and commented that I like black. Another guy said, “If you could only sing like Johnny Cash, too.” I said, “Actually I hear that a lot,” thinking of the half a dozen people a week that say I sound like Cash. As the banter continued, I realized that none of the men in the room had ever heard me sing or even knew that I played in a band, even though I am sure I brought it up on several occasions.

Nobody there knew that I had sung “Big River” and “Folsom Prison Blues” to a packed house and cheers just three days before. I couldn’t think of a way to mention it without sounding like I was making something up or bragging, so I just let the subject drop.

The point is – most of us are multi-faceted and many areas of our lives don’t cross each other. I often ask musicians how many of their friends have heard them play. Surprisingly, the answer is often – not many. They often lament that their fans and friends are two different groups of people, making it very hard to talk about their music and musical accomplishments with their friends.

I don’t know the application to this story other than the fact that we often don’t know our friends very well. Our relationships are often superficial. It is very difficult for more than a small handful of people to know us well enough to know what we care about or what we think. It is difficult for us to know our friends and what they care about. But it is worth the effort. Everybody is worth knowing and worth finding out what makes them tick and what makes them come alive.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Forgiveness

The news is full of sectarian and ethnic violence. In Africa, the Mid-East, and elsewhere, feuds and conflict that have been going on for generations, erupt at the slightest provocation. Despite many social injustices, this country has been relatively free of such conflicts. The reason is that we have a strong culture of forgiveness.

One of the solid Christian principles that has deep roots in American society is the concept of forgiveness. Sometimes it is not easy, but we know that we must forgive others, just has God can forgive us.

Like most Americans, I have an eclectic mix of ancestors. Some members of my distant family had their land stolen from them by order of the U.S. Supreme Court when gold was discovered on their land. The U.S. Army arrested them and forced them to walk from their ancestral homes in Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia to Oklahoma. Thousands died along the way. They were Cherokee and the forced march is now called the “Trail of Tears.” The Cherokee were not savages but rather successful merchants, craftsman, and farmers. This was only about four generations ago, yet the Cherokee have forgiven the United States and are loyal US citizens.

Another part of my distant family came here in colonial days fleeing religious persecution in Europe. It is seldom mentioned that they were Evangelicals fleeing persecution by the Roman Catholic Church and the Catholic controlled governments. That is what was on their minds when the establishment clause was written into the constitution. Evangelical Protestants and Catholics are both forgiving people and this is now considered ancient history.

More recently, my family members came here in search of jobs and land. They left impoverished situations in search of a better life, just as many still do today. Like today, they weren’t necessarily met with open arms. They had to work hard to prove themselves worthy to be called Americans.

Other people were kidnapped from their villages in Africa, put on ships heading to America and sold into slavery. Even though they were freed less than 150 years ago, forgiveness is the order of the day.

Without forgiveness, this country, too, would be embroiled in ethnic and sectarian violence. Just about everybody would have no trouble thinking of a “beef” against their neighbor.

The answer to world peace is easy – forgiveness. People must forgive each other for past atrocities, and keep on forgiving because we are going to keep on treating each other badly.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Square Watermelons


My old High School buddy, Wayne Norton, now Dr. Wayne Norton of the First Baptist Church in Coffeyville, Kansas, reminded me of the square watermelons grown in Japan. It turns out that all you have to do is put the watermelons in a square box while they are growing and they will grow to the shape of the box. Pretty cool, huh?

Of course the same thing happens to people. Put us in a square box while we are growing and we take on the shape of the box. Any shaped box for that matter will shape us just as well. Most of us didn’t have the opportunity to decide the type of “box” we grew up in, but since we continue to grow our whole lives, we can change boxes whenever we want.

The box may be our relationships, it may be our neighborhood, or it may be the entire culture shaped by the media, music, and entertainment that we expose ourselves to.

As adults, we have lots of control over what we put in our minds. We have dozens of TV channels, millions of songs on iTunes, thousands of books, and hundreds of magazine and newspaper titles to choose from. If we choose to degrade our lives and conform to the lowest common denominator of the culture we certainly have that option.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good and perfect will.”

Friday, March 02, 2007

Kansas City Star Opinion Page

I was pleasantly surprised this morning to see an essay I wrote on the Opinion page of the Kansas City Star. It is pretty much taken from this page a few months ago, so it may sound familiar to my regular readers.

In case you missed it, here is the link:
http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/opinion/16813778.htm

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fishers of Men

Luke 5 tells the story of Jesus calling some of his disciples from a group of fisherman. He said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Like many people, my image was one of an angler standing beside a trout stream or a lake, slowing casting a line. Down the shore was another fisherman doing the same thing. Occasionally they would exchange pleasantries –“Catching anything?” “No, you?”

But that is not the context here. Jesus is talking to a fishing crew who had just pulled in boatload of fish. When Jesus implied that His followers would be “Fishers of Men,” he was obviously thinking about a crew working together, repairing nets, driving the boat, hauling in the nets, and sorting fish. That is a much different picture than the loan fisherman casting a line with a rod and reel. Unlike a stringer of bass, a boatload of fish is not particularly pretty. There are all sorts of things in the net. A Biblically functioning church will have all sorts of people. Drug addicts, alcoholics, and ex-cons will be sitting next to doctors, lawyers, and teachers.

Not surprisingly, that happens everyday at coffeehouses such as Homer’s, sporting events, and often, the workplace - less often in church and Sunday School.

If we are on a fishing-boat crew, no one person can point to a fish and say that one’s mine. We are all in it together. We’re working together to build one another up, building a better community, and growing “The Kingdom of God.”

Friday, February 02, 2007

Ski Time


Well, it looks like I am not going to make it skiing this year. This is one of the few years out of the past 25 when we have not gone on a ski trip. It is not that I am such a great skier or that I even love it that much. After all, a person isn’t going to get very good at anything doing it just 2 or 3 days a year. I just love everything about skiing.

I love riding in the car across Kansas with my wife. I love the first sighting of the mountains. I love riding the lifts and having lunch on the patio of the Summit House in 20 degree weather. Then later, walking down Main Street in Breckenridge and having dinner at the Whales Tail. Oh sure, the skiing is fun too.

But the overall affect of winter sports, whether it is skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, or snowmobiling, is that it completely changes one’s attitude about winter. When I am loading the car in the parking lot at Sam’s in single-digit weather, it reminds me of unloading boots and skis in the parking lot at Copper Mountain. Walking across the yard in knee-deep snow reminds me of cross-country skiing in Yellowstone. Driving on snow-packed roads is part of the experience, and when this too is associated with something fun, it makes the whole thing more bearable.

Knowing that we have skied all morning in sub-zero weather at Jackson Hole makes going to work at plus-six no big deal. I know for a fact that my car will start at minus thirty five, so I don’t worry about it at zero. I think this is the concept that James was talking about in James 1 when he said, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” He goes on to say that the trials make us mature and lead to wisdom. That is how we get stronger.

Now if I can just think of something to like about the heat this summer.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Looking out for others

One of my ongoing pursuits is trying to figure out why some people are successful at whatever they want to accomplish while others are always floundering.

One clue is found in the Bible in Philippians chapter 2, verse 4. Paul say’s “Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interest of others.” The Message paraphrases it this way, “Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”

This is not only scripture, but the best business advice I can think of. Zig Ziglar say’s, “You can get everything in life that you want, if you help enough other people get what they want.”

We have had a few issues lately with people either leaving early or arriving late to work. We try to accommodate people’s needs, but the real problem is that if one person has to leave early, arrive late, or call in sick, somebody else’s plans are changed. One person being late for work means somebody else has to work later than they had planned. One person’s desire to put their own plans ahead of their work commitment means somebody else has to cancel a date, change dinner plans, or miss an important meeting.

The ability to put other’s interest ahead of your own, in the long haul, translates to one thing – winners and losers. Selfishness always looses. Looking out for others always wins.

We are very fortunate in our business at Homer’s Coffee House to be able to help young people learn these principles early. It is a joy to be able to help shape the work habits of young people, greatly increasing the chances that they will be labeled with the winners, because they have learned the importance of service, hard work, and looking out for the interest of others.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Culture of Sameness

On a recent trip to Europe, the first thing we noticed, in big cities and small towns, was that 95% of retail businesses and restaurants were single location, usually with the proprietor behind the counter. There are very few chains, big box stores, or franchises. This is in a remarkable contrast to the US where small owner-operated shops or caf├ęs have all but disappeared. As a result we have less choice, lower quality, and certainly no personal service.

I have been trying to figure this out for several months and the conversations I have had with other small business owners are alarming. Contrary to popular belief, most can compete with the “big guys” on a level playing field quite nicely, thank you. The problem is that the field is not as level as you might expect.

Developers and landlords seem to be increasingly unwilling to rent to anyone but national accounts, (click here) to the point of canceling leases for owner-operators and seeking to fill the space with national chains. There is a growing culture that thinks that small is bad, familiarity is good, and that unique is undesirable. That is why a drive down Dodge in Omaha, or Metcalf in Overland Park or any other shopping street in any American city looks exactly the same.

A while back we were visiting relatives in a city 2,000 miles away. When the subject of lunch came up, they suggested Red Lobster, Olive Garden, or Applebee’s, the same restaurants that are within six blocks of our home. These places are all OK, but they could be anywhere. Signs of local flavor are quickly disappearing.

I don’t have a solution. I have only begun to identify the problem. I have seen window decals in Chicago saying, “Support your Local Merchants,” encouraging neighbors to support their neighbors. This might be a start, but local merchants don’t need benevolence, they just need to be able to rent prime space at market rates, have access to goods at fair prices, and be treated the same as other businesses when it comes to taxes and regulations.

It is hard to compete when the big chain down the street is getting tax breaks, strong arms the supplies to get rock bottom prices, and intentionally drives out competition. But owner-operators have the advantage of knowing the customers, knowing the community, not having to rely on reports to know how business is doing, and having consistent management.

I would like your ideas about this situation. Click on the “comments” link below.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Meeting people's needs

Churches and ministry organizations are often accused of being out of touch with the needs of the culture, and rightly so. We can go along for years being totally ineffective and be content in our own little world. But big commercial organizations can make huge mistakes as well.

Take cell phones as an example. Motorola demonstrated a handheld portable cell telephone in 1973. The press made a big deal out of it stating that the completely portable wireless telephone would change the way people lived and that the world would never be the same.

Unfortunately nobody at Motorola, AT&T, or the FCC believed it. Little effort was put into developing it and little bandwidth was assigned. AT&T was so convinced that there was no commercial potential that it gave away the technology it had developed. This was in spite of the fact that pop culture had forecast, and the public longed, for such a device for years. Dick Tracy had his wrist two-way radio in the 30’s and Adam Smart had a telephone in his shoe in a 1960’s TV show. If there was ever a demand for a new technology, this was it.

A consultant for AT&T predicted that the world-wide market for cell phones would be about 900,000. They missed it by a factor of 1,000s. There are now billions of cell phones in use. For that reason we now suffer from overcrowded frequencies due to not enough bandwidth, highly compressed signals, and a confusion of standards, resulting in poor sound, weak signals, and dropped calls. All because demand is far greater than the major players ever expected.

Even a casual observer of culture can see that there is little need for wired telephones or broadcast television, yet billions of dollars have been wasted on these technologies. People stay home to watch TV, but they need a telephone wherever they are, not the other way around. Looking at a picture of the radio spectrum it is easy to see that huge chunks are given to broadcast television while only a few slivers are designated for personal communication.

I am sure there was a reason for this at the time. Television just followed the model of radio even though radio is a portable device and portable TVs have never caught on. Who knows why portable phones were so long in coming? I tried to get a car phone in the 1960’s only to find that there was a long waiting list due to the fact that there were only a few frequencies available. Doctors and emergency personnel were given priority, so the chances of a photographer getting one were slim.

The point of all this is this: we need to be aware of people’s needs and wants and work to supply those needs. Just providing what we want to provide or what is easy is not the model demonstrated by Jesus. He met people’s needs whatever they were.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Stuff, stuff, stuff

Four year’s ago, Louise and I sold or gave away two-thirds of our possessions and moved from a four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment. It was not at all an easy thing to do. In fact it was one of the hardest things we have ever done. But in retrospect, it was well worth the trouble. We had no idea how weighed down we had become with extra stuff in our life. Since then we have kind of become the “go to” people for those wishing to down size and simplify their lives.

The first thing I tell people is to figure out who you are and get rid of everything that isn’t you. For example, I now describe myself as a musician, photographer, and writer. That means that I am not a woodworker, a mechanic, or gardener. Therefore I do not need woodworking equipment, mechanics tools, or gardening tools. By my own definition of who I am, I only need musical instruments I can play, a camera that works, and a computer to write on. Everything else is superfluous and could be discarded.

Of course it isn’t that simply, but you get the idea and that is a good start. Eliminating equipment for hobbies I no longer pursued helped clean out my basement. It also helped in reducing the size of my library.

In the kitchen we had our good dishes and our everyday dishes, our good silver and our everyday stuff. The simple decision that we were good enough for the “good stuff” all the time allowed us to get rid of all the everyday day stuff and use the best stuff everyday. Our lifestyle went up and the clutter went down.

In my case at least, the accumulation of stuff was caused by the pursuit of different interests over time. I restored an old car and ended up with mechanics tools and car parts. Since I don’t even work on my own car anymore, I don’t either. Multiply that principle by twenty and you get the idea.

Clarity of purpose and a clear understanding of who we are and what we want to do will go a long way in simplifying our lives. Staying focused on our calling and sharpening our passions will help eliminate the junk in the basement and garage.

God created us with a purpose. Satan’s plan is to keep us distracted with stuff to the point that we never get around to completing God's purpose.