Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Death of the Newspaper

Newspapers are going away.

I don't think that's news to anyone. If you live in a big city, like Dallas or Denver, you've watched in the last couple decades as the number of major city newspapers was cut in half. Some places, the newspapers have gone from 50 pages to 32.

Silverton, CO ... they probably had a lot of newspapers, too.
And admit it: if you're reading this blog you may not even know anyone who still subscribes to a newspaper. The young people view them as a quaint, old-people's thing. The middle-aged people see them as still a nice thing, but not necessarily something to subscribe to. That leaves the elderly, who are still the newspaper's most reliable source of income. (Sad news, though: the elderly are dying off for some reason [we need a government study on this]).

What happened?

The obvious and easy answer is the internet. This is true, but it's only part of the problem, in part because finding local news is not always easy on-line. You can find out what mud a Kardashian is currently rolling in with two flicks of the thumb on your smart phone, but finding out whether the local city council voted to outlaw gypsies last night is going to take some digging. The newspaper is still the best place to find out the details of the local haps, but most people in our world are content with either a] not really caring about the local haps (most popular answer) or 2] (less popular but still more popular than the newspaper) finding out about the local affairs by having the TV news on while they order take-out.

It didn't used to be this way. I remember reading about the little gold-mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado--it's little now, anyway. Back when it was a booming mining town of 10,000 residents, it had ten different newspapers! The New York Times and the New York Post still wage something of a war, but the only people who care about it are the employees of the New York Times and, occasionally, the New York Post.

Now, instead of getting their misinformation from the NYT, most people would prefer to get their information from whatever squirrel writes the news for the internet or, barring that, just skip the news entirely and play Pok√©mon Go! (is that still a thing?) or watch reruns of "Game of Thrones Porn" on their phone while telling their friends at church they only watch it for the storytelling.

Is there a way to get back to those old days, when newspapers mattered? Short of the kind of disaster I champion in my novel series "The Last Valley" (buy it in paperback or for Kindle or Nook by clicking here), I don't think so. For one thing, go to a museum (check your GPS to find the one nearest you) and check out old newspapers. You know what they had in them?


Back in the day when Cripple Creek could support ten newspapers, all ten of them were either one broad sheet of paper, or maybe one broader sheet of paper folded once to make a four-page newspaper. Almost no pictures (sometimes none at all), very little advertising, just news. Column after column of tightly written, sometimes sensational, news and commentary. They still had the baseball scores and recipes, but what they didn't have was three pages taken up completely with an advertisement for a dress shop. Once they started running pictures, the pictures were part of the story, not just a hook that replaces the story.

I don't think our world could go back to that. We don't have the desire or aptitude to read the kind of long articles they wrote back then (with long paragraphs and long sentences to boot). We have short attention spans (most people bailed on this blog long ago) and want quotes that could appear in Reader's Digest because they're both pithy and short (as opposed to succinct, which is really different entirely).

Addendum: I thought about adding something along the lines of how most newspapers (especially those with "Globe-News" or "Avalanche-Journal" in their title), if you submit something to them like, oh, I don't know, a comic strip, won't even bother to write back. No, "Thanks but no thanks", even. I realize they're busy drowning in debt, but maybe if they had a little more courtesy toward their public it would help their relationship to the public?

Monday, October 3, 2016

10,000 Years

I love the song "Amazing Grace". One of the most beautiful songs ever written, and a wonderful encapsulation of the gospel message.

I thought I should say that first before I mention that the last verse bugs me.

"When we've been there ten thousand years ... "

This is poetry, so maybe that's poetic license. It probably is.

But here's what bugs me: there is no night-time in heaven, so there is only one day. Therefore, there is only one year ... for all the rest of eternity.

I get what he's saying. That eternity won't be long enough to get all the praising of God done that we'll want to do, or need to do.

Maybe the poem needed something and "One really long year for all eternity" didn't fit the meter.

On the other hand, depending on your view of the end, years may be counted in heaven for at least the first thousand, so maybe this is a referent saying that ten times the earthly reign of Christ will not be sufficient time to get all the praising done.

Just something I was thinking about in church while we were singing another song.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Political Debates as Kabuki Theater

Watching the political debates, what little I could stomach, anyway, made me think about what I knew was coming:

-- Everyone who already supported him was going to say he won.

-- Everyone who already supported her would say she won.

-- Almost no minds would be changed.

-- The media would spin it the way they were going to spin it no matter what happened within the debate itself.

It's interesting to be a Tuesday morning reader of this stuff, especially to read comments or headlines like, "Trump unquestionably won" or "Clinton the undeniable victor" ... sometimes on the same front page of the same newspaper (do they still print those) or web site.

Not like sports.

We may argue that the referee blew the call and the ball was definitely in the air before the buzzer, or that the umpire should have called that ball a homerun, but the outcome is what it is. This team won and that team lost.

In the real sports, I mean, not those genned-up, fake ones, like pro wrestling or the NFL.

Somewhere, there is probably someone who has created a metric that tells who won a debate, but it hasn't caught on, and probably won't. Our debates aren't even debates. Whoever you thought won the most recent presidential debate (and I'm thinking it was probably Jill Stein, for getting kicked off campus before it even started), neither one of the participants would have even qualified for a high F in a debate class.

It's theatre. It's Show. It's a chance to pretend that the candidates are knowledgeable, acceptable potential leaders of the country. It's a chance for the media to act like they care about both sides of the issue(s).

It is, in this most recent case, anyway, a ratings bonanza.

Monday, September 26, 2016


"Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses." ~Dorothy Parker

"My grandmother lived to be ninety-five and never needed glasses. She always just drank right out of the bottle." ~unknown

I am fifty years old now and wearing my first pair of glasses. I don't know that it makes me feel old (everything is doing that!) but it is making the world seem like a moonscape. The ground is too close and has rolls in it, the table tops are trapezoid shaped and leaning away from me, and peripheral is a fun-house mirror.

But it's not as bad today as it was yesterday. Even as I look to this computer screen, I am seeing the letters better than I was yesterday. I have no-line bi-focals and there is supposed to be a range in the middle of the glasses for looking at computer screens. Yesterday, it seemed like it was about half a pixel wide, but today I can actually see the screen pretty well. Yesterday, reading was difficult as well because the "sweet spot for reading" was at the bottom of the frame. Way at the bottom. Like one line of text at a time, just above the rims, bottom of the frame. It's still not great, but already it's getting better.

The glasses haven't changed. And, honestly, the glasses work best when I don't try to find that sweet spot. See, if I stop thinking about it, I realize my head tilts to just the right angle for best visibility through the lenses. If I think about it, though, then I start tilting my head like a bobblehead, trying to find the exact right spot where things become clear.

And then the sweet spot seems to get smaller.

If there's a meta-message here that applies to something beyond glasses, I'm not sure what it is. Probably something about "trust".

But not blind trust, because that that would counteract the glasses.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Why "Home Improvement" is the 5th-greatest show of all time

There are pop-up ads—I’m sure you’ve seen them—that get your attention just because they purport to show or tell something outlandish. I got sucked into one of those recently about “Worst TV Shows of the 1990’s” because the show it used for its click-bait picture was “Home Improvement”. This got my attention because, of course, “Home Improvement” was not only the best show of the 1990s, it was the 5th best show of all time.

The great thing about the internet, like “the good thing about toe fungus”, is that we can throw these things out there without fear of repercussions, mostly because no one ever reads my blog, anyway. There are so many other blogs, articles and—of course—porn, out there, why would they stop off here to read what a used-to-be-minister and former-writer thinks about … anything?

Another click-bait article (can’t remember what the attracting picture might have been) was a nonsensical article from the wonderful folks at the “Crawfish Boxes” (a web site dedicated to articles about the Houston Astros) about how the Astros are actually better than the Texas Rangers. After beginning with a premise better suited to The Onion, the author went on to detail how, position-by-position, the Astros were actually better than the Rangers. An innocent reader could be forgiven for thinking the writer had any idea what he was talking about, but only if they could prove conclusively that they were completely oblivious to the fact that the Rangers regularly beat the Astros like the proverbial rented mule. As of this writing, the Rangers have won 9 of the 10 games played against their cross-state “rivals”.

The purpose/dream of all such articles, though, is that such outlandish or inflammatory headlines will attract readers. Why we want them I’ve forgotten, but most bloggers do. So, anyway, here’s my list of greatest TV shows ever and why whoever put “Home Improvement” on a worst list is—probably nice as can be and uber-intelligent in all other matters—wrong.

1.       The Andy Griffith Show There is, of course, no disputing this assertion. Andy Griffith, Don Knotts, Sheldon Leonard, et. al. created television’s perfect show. From the opening theme music (admit it: you’re whistling it now), we are taken back to a perfect time that never was. Even though some argue that the show was somewhat inferior after Don Knotts left (they’re right), it was the number one rated show during its final season, so even a “weak” Andy Griffith is better than anything else on TV.

2.       The Dick Van Dyke Show Almost as perfect, Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner and (notice a pattern here?) Sheldon Leonard created another great show. It’s funny, it’s quotable, and what red-blooded American male isn’t in love with Laura Petrie? Richie Petrie gets a bad rap sometimes as not being a good actor, but I think the reality is that he’s always held up against Ron Howard, which is like being compared to Babe Ruth on the ball diamond.

3.       Maverick At a time when there were 31 other westerns on TV, Roy Huggins presented a new kind of western with James Garner (then, soon after, Jack Kelly) that soon rose to the top of the ratings—ahead of all those other westerns, as well as every other genre. Every episode is like watching a big screen movie with the excellent scripts and top-notch acting. Some have said that every anti-hero who followed—in the movies or on TV—owes a debt of gratitude to Garner’s roguish gambler who, when all else failed, could be counted on to do what was right (and get the girl).

4.       The Rockford Files Garner and Huggins struck again (though Huggins didn’t stay with it very long) in creating the best P.I. show of all time. Rockford was as quick with his wits as with his fists and was as likely to solve the case through guile as through wits. And it’s been written elsewhere (not by me, but the premise is correct) that the episode “The House on Willis Avenue” may have been the best episode ever written for television due to it’s incredible prediction of the shape of things to come, especially the crime of identity theft. (Go watch it and remember: this was made in 1977 before even Al Gore had heard of the internet.)

5.       Home Improvement Based loosely on Tim Allen’s stand-up routines about the emasculating of the modern male, HI provided eight years of hilarity. But go back and watch them if you haven’t seen them in a while and you may be surprised to find that they also found ways to deal with subjects like menopause, mid-life crises, hospice and what to do when you accidentally glue your head to a table. HI is a great, funny show, it just wasn't able to topple the four listed above (an impossible task, when you think about it).

While there have been other shows produced for television, of varying degrees of value, those five are the best the medium has ever produced. If I had to list the next 15 best shows (and why not, it’s my blog), I might say (and might change tomorrow, only the top 5 never change): 6. Grizzly Adams; 7. The Waltons; 8. Star Trek (TOS); 9. Seinfeld; 10. Lois & Clark; 11. Chuck; 12. Blue Bloods; 13. JAG; 14. Gunsmoke; 15. Gilligan’s Island; 16. The Simpsons; 17. Matlock; 18. 6 Million Dollar Man; 19. Get Smart; 20. Coach.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Withering Church

Was in a small, west Texas town last week to see some patients and came across the 1st Christian Church of That Town . I had wondered where it was, as I had had some dealings with it before, sort of. Back in 2010, I attended a meeting of what was called (I think) the Panhandle Evangelism Association, which amounted to two people from our church, the minister from That Town, and an old college alum of mine (who was ministering at a church in Amarillo at the time). So I had wondered if the church of That Town still existed.

Having taken a wrong turn in my effort to get to the nursing home, I spotted a building with a sign out front that proclaimed (in muted tones), "1st Christian Church." Nice-looking little building, and there were two trucks pulled up out front so I thought maybe someone was there mowing the yard. I stopped and went in and was met by two elderly gentlemen whose names I don't remember. They greeted me and I told them who I was and I found out that they were 2/3 of the church. On Sunday mornings, one of them brings his wife. And they live more than an hour away. He told me the Church of Christ had tried to buy the building from then and my thought was, "Sell! Sell!" but he was born and raised in that church, he father was a founder, and he can't bear to let it go.

[I say the sign proclaimed the church in muted tones because while it had the name spelled out, it did not have the service times anywhere on it. So, if Joe Smith decides one Sunday morning he would like to attend 1st Christian ... how's he going to know when to show up? I asked them that in a polite way and they took it kindly, though acted like they had never thought of anything like that. The building itself is in OK shape, though it smells musty and the interior is definitely from the 1970s. So, from a strictly superficial standpoint, the church has 3 strikes against it before a service could even start.]

That Town is a dying, rural town. Doesn't even have a grocery store anymore. Just a Love's, another convenience store (which is across the street from the Love's), a Subway and a Sonic. A dozen Mexican food restaurants (which is a really low number for a town of that size in west Texas). The town square is just a square of empty shops around a courthouse. There's an old, closed movie theater on the square that I would love to see the inside of. So, even if you had the wherewithal to--say--sponsor a church-planting team to come in and take over the building, canvas the area, etc., what are the chances of it taking off in a town like that? I'm sure it COULD be done, but I wouldn't bet on it BEING done.

This Town (the town where I used to minister) is not a dying town like That Town, but I could sure see the church where I used to serve following the path of that church in That Town. Maybe it won't, but there is very little in the church's current makeup to make one say, "That'll never happen here!"

On the other hand, I think churches/congregations may be like plants. Some of them are designed to be planted, grow for a while, then die off. It should only be sad if we prolong it long past the sell-by date, holding onto a building more than onto our Lord. We should probably rejoice in the time it had and the lives it affected when it was supposed to.

Normally, I think cultural fads flow from the big cities outward, but I wonder if this particular flow--while it may be coming from the cities (I could write more on that later but probably won't)--is most clearly visible in the rural areas: the church model of 'if you build it they will come', sometimes called more formally 'the attractional model', is nearing it's end. Our culture bombards everyone--but especially our young--with attractive enticements. Many churches have tried to jump on that bandwagon and are meeting with a season of success, but I think that season is closing. For some, it already has.

There are think tanks in the world of science and politics and art (and maybe every discipline) who try to predict "the next big thing". New methods of propulsion. New mediums for art. Demographic changes that make old methods of polling obsolete.

Surely there are think tanks for the church. I wonder what they are predicting? I firmly believe that God will always preserve a remnant, but it may not be anything like what we expect a "church" to look like.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

God Said, "No"

I had always wanted to be a writer, practically from the first time I learned that one could take those letters we were being taught and shape them into words, which could be gathered together into sentences with which to create stories someone would want to read.

So I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. And I read and I read and I studied how those who wrote the things I liked to read wrote. Why does this sentence work? Why was this detail revealed here and not elsewhere? Besides teachers and profs, my instructors were L'Amour and Lewis, Christie and Faulkner, Hillerman and Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Tolkien, and hundreds more.

And I prayed.

I prayed for over 40 years that God would use my writings for his glory and the support of my family. And God said, "No."
With my last work, "The Last Valley" trilogy, I prayed and researched and wrote my best work, each sentence carefully chosen to advance the story and convey the message that I thought God had given me. I worked to pour layer after layer of heart and metaphor into the tale in hopes that I had finally written what the best thing I had ever written.

God said, "No."

I put out fleece and the answer God gave me was, "No."

There was a time when--one month of March and one month only--I sold over 200 copies of my books. I prayed that was the start I had been praying for, but it was a sales height never reached again, apparently a fluke. Two years later, after constant prayer that I would be the writer that I was supposed to be and that my books would "take off", I was selling 3-5 books a month. I advertised, I used social media, I even tried eschewing those things and "leaving it in God's hands".

So I put out fleece. I prayed from the beginning of the year that during March I would sell 100 books. If I didn't, I would accept that God did not want me to be a writer.

Boy, did God say, "No!"

In March, I sold 4 books. Not 100. Not 10. 4.

I am no longer a writer. Maybe I never was. Not a good one, anyway. I wanted to be a writer, a novelist. Maybe I was good but …

But God said, "No."