Church Hopping: St. Mary’s Church, Nottingham

Location: Nottingham, England
Website: http://www.stmarysnottingham.org
Architect: Various
Built: Circa 1377–1509 with ongoing restorations and additions

History: A church has most likely stood at this location since Saxon times, and in fact the church is mentioned in the Doomesday Book, a survey of England completed in 1086. However, it wasn’t until toward the end of Edward III’s reign in 1377 that the building of St. Mary’s Church began. The south aisle wall was completed by the early 1380s, during the reign of Richard II. It was during this time period that the Peasants’ Revolt took place, out of which the tale of Robin Hood emerged. The monarchy underwent many changes—power moved from the Angevins to the House of Lancaster to the House of York, back to the House of Lancaster, and then back to the House of York—and the nave was finished by 1475. The tower, meanwhile, was not erected until the reign of Henry VII from the House of Tudor.

[picture from my trip in 2001]

Exterior design: The architecture conforms to the style of the fifteenth century. Not only does the church sit on one of the highest points in the area, but its tower, which is 126 feet above ground level, is about ten feet taller than Nottingham Castle, thereby signifying its importance even beyond politics.

According to the church guide, the many-windowed church originally had clear glass but churchgoers preferred "to worship in an atmosphere of reverent gloom and filled the spaces with stained glass." Consequently, the church boasts beautiful late-Victorian stained glass made by Charles Eamer Kempe, Burlison & Grylls, and Hardman & Co.

[picture from Ilkcam.com]

The south porch doors, designed by the Arts and Crafts Movement’s Henry Wilson, is sectioned off into panels that depict scenes from the New Testament.

[picture from Ilkcam.com]

Interior design: Considering the length of time it took to build the church, in which not only who sat upon the throne changed but undoubtedly style, the architecture of the church is surprisingly uniform. In fact, as J. Holland Walker points out, although the chancel stands apart for its different style, it is with solid explanation.

[picture of nave and general interior from Ilkcam.com]

As the oldest surviving door in the town (it possibly dates back as far as the 1370s), the chantry door is of particular note.

[image from Wikipedia]

Interesting fact: The founder of the Salvation Army, General William Booth, has ties to St. Mary’s Church. He was baptized at Sneinton Church by George Wilkins, D.D., Perpetual Curate, Vicar of St. Mary’s. The choir stalls at Sneinton Church, acquired in 1848, were originally from St. Mary’s.

Pop culture: The story “Robin Hood and the Monk,” in which Robin Hood visited St. Mary’s because he hadn’t been to mass for a fortnight but was reported by the monk he had earlier robbed, takes place at this church. (The St. Mary’s Robin Hood married Maid Marion in is in Edwinstowe.)

Boom Goes the Boomers!

As the economy tumbles, we're all searching for answers, for comfort. And part of that comfort comes from placing blame. Who's fault is this whole mess? The Republicans? GMC? Barney Frank? Bankers?

When it all first started, I had a theory, one I didn't point out on Burnside because 1) I don't really know what I'm talking about most of the time, and 2) I'm usually hesitant to point a finger of blame at entire people groups.

But then Marian Salzman, a trendspotter and marketing guru, came out on CNN.com and more or less told me my theory was exactly right: we're in this mess because of Baby Boomers.

And while I'll never forgive Salzman for popularizing the phrase "metrosexual", let's think about her claim for a moment: what do Barney Frank, the majority of Republican and Democratic leadership, President Bush, most banking/automobile CEOs, Rush Limbaugh, Barbara Streisand, O.J. Simpson and Donald Trump have in common?

They're all born between 1940 and 1955.

The Baby Boomers were the first to reap the rewards of America's superpower status. The Greatest Generation, wounds fresh from the Great Depression and World War II, fought for and attained prosperity, a bright future for their children. The Golden Age of America was about to begin.

And then their petulant, spoiled children rode all that hard work right off a cliff. Baby Boomers are defined by their immense self-centeredness and belief in the individual. They never shut up about all the great works they accomplished, like the end of the Vietnam War (which, by the way, lasted 16 years) and ingesting copious amounts of narcotics, and all the super-awesome music. Through Bill Clinton and George Bush, they've accomplished 16 straight years of awful presidency.

And pretty soon, this massive clump of self-obsessed Boomers will reach social security age, bringing on another economic crisis...one that could've been averted by now, except Baby Boomers aren't overly concerned with anyone but themselves.

It's not just politics, either...almost every aspect of how the Evangelical Church in America operates, good and bad (though, I'd lean toward the latter), is because of Baby Boomer influence.

Now, I realize Baby Boomers are a diverse group, and not all of them are to blame for America's current freefall. But that doesn't make my blood boil any less when remembering these stupid Ameriprise commercials:

Yeah, man...no bingo for you! You burned your draft card and let a black kid from inner-city Detroit go to Vietnam in your place! You survived the '60s! So go buy that boat, man...you deserve it.

I have some chapter ideas for "the book on how to turn retirement upside down":
  1. Freedom Means Buying Giant Cars
  2. The Greatest Generation: They Laid the Groundwork for You! (And No One Else!)
  3. From The Doors to Draft-Dodging: How to Tell Your Grandchildren How Much You Mattered
  4. Let's Get Rand-y: Unleashing Your Inner Howard Roark
(Incidentally, as Salzman's article points out, the worst of the baby boomers were born before 1953. Bill Gates, for example, has been a model of gracious, charitable wealth.)

The Anti-Ombudsman: There's No -Ism Like Syncretism

Hello Darlings!

I simply adore syncretism. Through it, Christianity has reached its highest heights and absconded from its lowest lows. If not for the Roman Empire and Hellenistic thought, Christianity would have remained mired in a Palestinian mud-hole, little more than a hippie commune floating in a sea of far more glamorous religions. The efforts of Constantine and Plato resulted in a religion far more digestible to the masses. If not for the Republican party (pardon me for skipping a couple millennia, but a thousand years to me is the same as cigarette break to you), evangelical Christianity would never have become synonymous with free market capitalism and war. Without the Democratic party, mainline churches might actually have some panache and style (not to mention members!). I approach ecstasy whenever one of you cute little Christian cuddle-muffins makes a delicious culture and faith smoothie for the rest of the world to suck down.

You, my precious Burnside pumpkins have not disappointed in your efforts to blend faith with sweeter ingredients. Christianity on its own is trite and pedestrian. You manage to make it fabulous. What’s more you, lace it with wit, irony, and a smidgen of condescension. Honestly, dears, I can’t imagine how anyone could practice religion without the smirking aloofness you all exhibit with such ease.

But enough of my self-congratulations. Though it is indeed well-deserved, we must proceed with the Big B and Little B awards! Both reward excellent examples of syncretism.

The Little B goes to Chad Gibbs. My darling Chad, the BWC blog desperately needs to look like . . .well, almost anything else. I suggest you expand your current pursuits and transform this forum into “LOLbwc.” In time, no one will have the slightest idea what you’re talking about or why it’s funny. This, my dear, is the very apex of glamour and prestige. Oh, and the fact that you managed to mock pastors in the process makes you the apple of my gleaming yellow eye. I must ask you, however, to leave my precious Joel Osteen in peace. His work is above reproach. We have statues of him down here. You little Burnside ragamuffins could learn a thing or two about style and influence from my sweet little Joel. Follow his example, and you shall excel at taking secular ideas and making them Christian.

Speaking of cheap imitation, we move on to Christian Rock. This week’s Big B award goes to Dan Gibson. My darling Dan, I always fancied Christian Rock a tremendous success in its own right. When The One We Do Not Name invented rock and roll, he imagined it as some abominable form of artistic and social expression for the unwashed proletariat youth of the world. Christian rock nullifies all his effort by removing both the artistry and social relevance. The more people listen to Christian rock, the happier I am (excepting that annoying muppet Steve Taylor, a perpetual barnacle on my giant red ass).

My dear Daniel, you discovered a use for Christian Rock that I never imagined: distraction via gossip and intrigue. Venomous exchanges about (or, better yet, with) the guitarist of a defunct Christian rock band is an excellent use of time. I thought Christians might be more immune than most to the titillation of the tabloids. It never occurred to me that they would be enthralled by gossip about “Christian entertainers.” Excellent work, darling! Perhaps you should start a TMZ for Christian celebrities. I could send you some paps if you like. They all work for me, don’t you know.

Much better job this time, my dears. There is still work to be done, but Rome wasn't built in a day. We must be patient. Prince Beelzebub's not done with you yet! I shall return to you in the new year, fresh from a spa holiday in Carmel and ready to make Christianity fabulous again.

Until then, my darling beauties, I remain . . .

Your friend until The End,


P.S. My dearest Aaron, I am twelve feet tall and I weigh almost 800 pounds (I assure you that every bit is muscle, regardless of what you might have heard from Satan). Given these measurements, are you quite sure that you desire a booty call from yours truly? If so, my phone number is 666-666-0666, ext. 2.


Be Still My Beating Heart

One of the most difficult aspects of growing up Christian is the ever present threat of Jesus' return and what you might miss out on in this world.

Inevitably, I would find myself anticipating something off in the future. But what if Jesus comes back first? When I was 16, it was sex. When I was 8, it was acquiring Shawon Dunston's rookie card. Just the other day, I found myself silently praying "Just wait a couple more minutes..." as I reached for a slice of pizza. I was hungry.

For all I know, that's why Jesus hasn't come back...he's waiting for everyone to stop asking to hold on a little longer.

For me, the strongest example of delaying the Second Coming happened when I was twelve years old, and I learned my favorite books of all time, The Redwall Series, were being made into a film. My brother and cousins were praying along with me. This was before we learned movie adaptations are routinely awful, before we'd been jaded by puberty.

First, we heard the movie was two years away, which is a fairly unbearable wait when you're that young. And by the time those two years had passed by, I was a freshman in high school, and I didn't care about Redwall anymore. I was into Tom Clancy, who already had a series of crap movies made from his books.

It's a good thing I didn't wait. The "movie" turned out to be a television series. It wasn't released until 1999, at which point I was enlisting in the US Army. Oh, and it sucked.

Keep in mind, this was 1999, four years after Pixar released Toy Story. But technology isn't any excuse...I've seen Tom and Jerry cartoons more well drawn.

The other day, I thought, "Well, why not put together a screenplay and send it to Pixar?" What could it hurt? The stories are wonderful, and they'd be well-suited to a vivid, computer-animated world.

I hopped online and discovered it's already being done.

Redwall: The Movie is due in July 2011, approximately two and a half years away.

I'd pray for another delay, but I'm too cynical these days.



A Christmas Story is not usually mentioned along with the great comedies of all time. I'm chalking its lack of respect to being a holiday film.

Every Christmas, TBS runs a 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story. It's the perfect Christmas film: there's rarely a slow scene, and the narrative is so familiar and tangential it allows you to skip in an out. I've been watching all day, here and there, and right now Ralphy is fantasizing about returning home, blind from soap poisoning. It's a tremendous scene, one that would've been the standout in comedies these days, and been played over and over in trailers. In A Christmas Story, it's a throwaway.

Three cheers for TBS! I hope they never end this tradition.

Merry Christmas!

From all of us here at the Burnside Writers Collective, we wish you a very merry Christmas.

Our gift for you is this poem, which Ariele wrote.


muck & mire and possibility in the frowziest of places: cracked mud, straw. beasts for warmth, comfort to tie sense to earth. in the slow-wicked oily light, some hopespark shines--it is Word Alive. so Flesh&Bone&Blood uncurls, seeks air, emerging from the mortal-dark cocoon of flesh and blood and bone. He could not have been born without some trauma, tearing of soft girl tissue and tears. all this Joy in the revulsive spreadstretch of rent flesh. corporeal thrums, serums leaked and sticky. Love. oozy eel love. gutGod love to crawl across a heart and fall into applecarved, well-curved arms. arrived. and [O! hear!] the angels sing.


America's Weirdest Holiday Light Displays

From a Sacred Cactus and the Blue Birds of Happiness to fruit salad Jesus, Slate has an awesome slideshow featuring Christmas light displays from around the country. I'm particularly shocked at how many folks used their displays to make some sort of asinine statement (really? an oil derrick?), but they're all interesting.

I think my favorite, despite its message of snotty atheism, is the Flying Spaghetti Monster, picture above.

...and on Earth peace, good will toward men.

Mediations: Christmas Misfits

Kyle led me down the chunky cinder block halls of the cottage to his bedroom. Kyle pointed to the collection of toys that he’d arranged on his blocky wooden desk. A camouflaged soldier and Teen-aged Ninja Mutant Turtle occupied the left side of the desk. Batman and two primary colored Power Rangers faced them from the right. At the center of the display, two play-worn action figures were posed, bent over an awkwardly folded piece of paper.

Kyle stared at me, attempting to provoke some reaction. Giving up, he said, “It’s a Christmas scene.”

A nativity set.

Kyle’s nativity scene was so unlike the smooth porcelain set of my childhood—the one that, every December my parents pulled out of storage. My brother and sisters and I would rush to free the wise men and shepherds from their incarceration, as our imaginations transforming the living room into the Holy Land. Dad would read the Christmas Story from Luke, while we maneuvered the Wise men from their distant home at the piano, across the room, to the infant Christ.

Kyle had stolen most of the action figures from the other boys on the floor. Kyle was a stocky pre-teen with a short temper. His victims hadn’t dared turn to any of the staff for help recovering their toys. Kyle was creating worship. Personal boundaries weren’t going to get in his way.

Kyle’s eyes beamed with pride and concern as I took in his makeshift nativity.
“Do you like it?”

I looked again at the desk. This time discerning Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, and the cast of adoring shepherds, angels, and wise men.

I took in Kyle’s nativity set and remembered his last home visit in November. A judge had instructed us to prepare Kyle to return home to live with his mother. The ruling left Kyle nervous but elated. He packed his own bags and went home on a Friday. On Saturday he woke up in his own bed… to the rhythm of his mother breaking a hard-wood chair over his back. After we received Kyle back from the hospital, he explained to us that while his mother was beating him, she was cursing and shouting about driving the demons out of her beautiful son so he could return home.
Now at Christmas, Kyle wanted nothing more than to be free of demons, to love Jesus, and to live with his mom.

“Yes Kyle, this is good...real good.”

That was over ten years ago, but Kyle’s nativity set, randomly assembled from the meager options available at the residential treatment center, will never escape my memory.

Ten years later I’ve come to realize that Kyle’s nativity represented the first Christmas far better than the porcelain set of my childhood. My nativity set? The colors of the wise men’s robes all complimented each other and they didn’t even clash with the shepherd’s humble garments. Each figurine—the humble shepherd boy not excluded—enjoyed the muscularity and grace of a Michelangelo. The characters all fit together. They were a set; each molded and painted with a common eye and vision. As if you could walk into a bar and see angels, magi, farm hands, and an expectant couple sitting around a table and think nothing of it.

Yet the cast God assembled to participate in the birth of his son wasn’t color-coordinated or cut from the same stone. They were a tossed together cast, a disparate group—a set of mismatched action figures. They were a teen-aged Jewish virgin and her fiancĂ©, a wealthy band of occultists, underclass gypsy-like shepherds, an arch angel, a country priest, a murderous king, and an ancient adversary. And God collected these players at some tornado bait village on the outskirts of Israel. Today, these characters wouldn’t be on any short-list for a guest appearance on the 700 Club—let alone be considered for a cameo in incarnation.

Jesus was about to interject himself into human history to subvert millennia of personal and institutional corruption. God would wear humanity—skin, hair, and fingernails— in order to create the new humanity. Jesus would break death’s white-knuckled grip on our race. Jesus’ birth would be the fulcrum God would use to leverage earth’s destiny. In other words, it was a major event, and you’d think God could have gathered some suitable witnesses to see his power in action.
God has the ability to stack the deck and deal himself a perfect hand. It’s one of the perks of being God. God could have chosen the respected priests, admired merchants, and even Caesar to announce the birth of his son. At first blush it seems that God missed his moment. This isn’t how people in the know self-promote. But perhaps, just maybe, God’s subversive intentions can be detected in who he chose to accompany his son during his transition from Heaven to Earth.


lol iii

This Week in the BWC

There are some great new articles this week on the Big Page.

Putting the Fun in Dysfunctional: "Very crafty, your book: it looks like some game book you could buy in an airport. But it's not for say, a third-grader or a committed alcoholic. How much therapy would a reader have to have to get all the jokes?" Susan Isaacs interviews Catheryn J. Brockett, author of The Dysfunctional Family Fun Book: Games and Activities to Keep You Sane Your Whole Visit Home. Leave your craziest home-for-the-holidays story in the comments section of the main site and you could win a copy of the book.

The Slave is My Brother: Haley Clark, a therapist working with traumatized children in Uganda, recalls a Christmas in that war-torn country.

Ferris Bueller Revisited: "Ferris exists in our imaginations as a postmodern Peter Pan of sorts, which is all well and good until we discover Neverland does’t allow for the possibility that we eventually grow up." Dave Zimmerman otugrows Ferris Bueller.

Blitzen Trapper: Michael Dallas Miller on the Portland-based rock band's live show at Seattle's Chop Suey.

Christmas with Weezer: Baby Jesus hanging out on the left side of the metronome. A review by Christian Dashiell.

Bowl Watcher's Guide 1: The first installment of Christian Dashiell's Bowl Watcher's Guide, complete with Watchability Ranking. Spoiler Alert: The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl will be a real barn burner.


Great Christian Music: Best of 2008

Of course, since it's the end of the year, everyone has to pipe in with their favorite albums of the year. While I was a bit critical of their list at the day job, you have to give Patrol Magazine some credit for trying to break down the ridiculous wall between the music of mainstream Christian music and Christians making music out in the general marketplace, including placing Brooke Waggoner's album Heal For The Honey in the top spot (listen to "So-So" from the album above). I'm certain my list of best "faith-based" discs of 2008 would be significantly different, but if you have a iTunes gift card burning a digital hole in your pocket after Christmas, you could pick nearly any of the albums Patrol mentions and feel confident in your purchase (unless you buy the dreadful Francesca Battistelli disc, which was likely added to Patrol's list on a dare or bet). While most of these albums would likely find themselves on the outside of any discussion of "great" Christian music, sometimes it's fun to listen to music that's of the moment and good enough.

My top five albums from 2008 that would be available for you to purchase with the Family Christian Stores gift card Grandma gave you:

The Myriad, With Arrows, With Poise:

"The Accident"

Family Force 5, Dance or Die:


The Classic Crime, The Silver Cord:


Anberlin, New Surrender:

"Feel Good Drag"

Lecrae, Rebel:


Overall, it seemed like a bit of an off year for Christian music, although there were certainly big releases from Chris Tomlin and others to clog the shelves pushing less prominent (but possibly better) albums to the back of the rack. There was some good news with reissues of Amy Grant's sublime Lead Me On and Daniel Amos' groundbreaking Darn Floor, Big Bite hopefully kicking off a forthcoming steady stream of reissues from the genre's past and a number of albums that were quite good and might hold up as the old calendar hits the wastebasket.

Best of luck to the Christian music industry in 2009 and to all of us as listeners. I still believe there's a chance for great Christian music to come from Nashville (directly or indirectly), however foolish that hope might be.

Another One Bites the Dust

On October 1st, 2007, we published an article by Rachel Pater entitled The Evil Empire of Libby Lu. Due to the rash of hilarious comments from angry little girls (and, sometimes, their more reasonable parents), this article has been one of our most long-enduring and well-read pieces.

Well, I guess Rachel didn't know her own strength. Club Libby Lu is going out of business.

DaddyTypes.com's positively gleeful post struck me as the funniest reaction to the news:
So awesome. Club Libby Lu is closing all its stores. CLL's parent company, Saks Fifth Avenue, made the announcement yesterday, and expects to have all the skanky toddler-to-tween makeover boutiques removed from America's malls by May 2009.
Not surprising, since they've had their own unpleasant run-ins with the Dark Side.

Some might point to the Washington Post's Libby Lu takedown back in 2006...or the tanking economy and America's rebellion against excess...but I'd like to put CLL's downfall squarely on the slender shoulders of our own Rachel Pater. Take a bow, Rach.

Part of the Solution: Why My Husband Hunts

It’s deer season here in Indiana. In fact, it’s muzzle loader season. And November was gun season, which was preceded by Fall gun turkey season. Due to my husband’s love for, um, this stuff, I know more about guns and hunting than I ever cared to, and our girls are learning even more. Our oldest daughter Ella, for example, filled in the ad lib blanks of a Father’s Day letter at school with “My dad teaches me… about guns.” The ensuing weeks found us nervously looking over both shoulders, expecting CPS to show up any day.

Let me tell you, gun education is every pacifist mother’s dream for her girls.

Anyway, while we’re talking about a mother’s dream for her children, and hunting, I’d like to mention that one dream that all parental units share is the desire to feed their children. Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, an “outreach ministry of the people of God called upon to feed venison to the hungry among us nationwide,” combines the two.

Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry organizes meat processing sites that accept donated game, such as deer and elk. The meat processing costs are covered by donations from churches and other organizations. Then, food pantries or other programs can pick up the meat, free of charge, for distribution or meal preparation.

Startling statistics regarding children and hunger listed on their website drive the organization in its mission:
  • One in Five children live at or below the poverty line

  • 9 million children are the recipients of food from a pantry, kitchen, or shelter

  • Fresh meat is one of the hardest commodities to acquire due to its high cost ($3 - $5 per pound). It is also more difficult to donate frozen meat.

  • Children who are undernourished have trouble concentrating and bonding with other children and are more likely to suffer illnesses that force them to be absent from school.
  • Venison is low in fat, naturally nutritious and costs about $.25 per serving

  • One deer can feed 200 hundred hungry people
Bjoern, being the avid hunter that he is, discovered Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry at an Outdoor Expo DNR booth. Moved by the ability to be a part of the solution and fill so many bellies by just doing what he loves, he knew he had found his niche. Ever since, he has worked to inform other hunters about the organization, with the hopes to mobilize and inspire others to combine sport and goodwill.

The weather here in Indiana has been great for hunters. There’s something about the cold, crisp air that brings out the deer. I don’t understand the joy in intentionally sitting out in the freezing temperatures, but Bjoern seems to get something emotional, perhaps even spiritual, out of the endless silence and squirrels, no matter if he gets anything or not (Bjoern only shoots if he is absolutely sure he is precisely accurate and we will eat it). But this year he did get something. And, rather than processing the deer for our own venison spaghetti sauce or gulasch purposes, he donated it at a local, participating butcher. I think Bjoern felt that it was an offering of sorts, like tithing the first fruits of his harvest.

Maybe Ella will write about that in her next ad lib Father’s Day letter?

This column is intended be a place where we can come together and share our knowledge - our facts and our experiences - to empower and encourage one another into action. Let’s learn together how we can be a part of the solution in dismantling our world’s unjust systems of oppression. So, if you’ve got something we ought to know, send your facts and story, in 800 words or less, to reviews@burnsidewriterscollective.com.


Leave your flocks

"Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened..." Luke 2:15

"Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary" Luke 10:41,42

It has been, if I can put it mildly, a difficult autumn for me. On the surface everything's looked just fine: pastor of a growing church, first little bits of the empty nest as my youngest moved three miles away into college dorms, three healthy, intelligent and witty adult children, a wife of 29 years who shares love, laughter, and tears with me, teaching opportunities beyond my local world, and much more. At a level, I've no reason to complain.

However, it's been an autumn that, even if everything had worked properly, had only the tiniest of margins. And everything didn't work properly. My aging mom has had some health problems down in California; a relative died down there unexpectedly, in her 50's, last month; there were car issues; the house needed painting; the cat had fleas and they started biting me too. There's more; much more, but it would bore you.

As a result, the tiny margins disappeared, those margins in which I was planning to meet God. In their absence, I took no steps to altar things so that I might discover the wonders of Jesus, being consciously with Him and discovering His invitations, receiving His healing, following His path. Unlike the shepherds of that first Christmas night, I've refused to leave my many cares in order to see the wonders of Bethlehem. I've been Martha, concerned about many things to such an extent that the cares crowded out Jesus.

You'd never know it, unless you knew me quite well, and even then, I might have fooled you. This is because I've been busy with God's things: preaching, teaching, writing spiritual entries for web sites and newspapers, doing weddings and funerals, spending time with people talking about God. But as honorable as all this looks, these activities can be just so many "sheep", flocks preoccupying me so that the invitation of the angels goes unheeded because I've "more important" things to do. Like Martha, I've multiple cares, in "God's Work" and in the "Real World", so that my many things crowd out the one thing that is genuinely necessary: sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning to love Him and receive His love. When this happens, I end up feeling hollow, tired, and isolated, even in the midst of all the people and activity. I sometimes feel that I talk because I have to say something rather than because I have something to say. This culminated in me coming home from recent travels and getting sick.

Then one night this past week, alone in the silence of my house (having shut off all media), I listened for the voice of Jesus and heard Him say to me: "I've missed you." The prayers and repentance which came from those moments have helped me recommit to leaving the flocks and the many cares so that I can once again sit at Jesus' feet. I don't think leaving the flocks means irresponsibility. It simply means priority. It means that being with Jesus, really meeting Him in some real sense, is the priority out from which all activity should flow. Often, we get it reversed: we set the agenda of our days and our lives, filling them with cares and flocks of all stripe, and then seek to touch base with God, asking God to bless it all, while promise to meet Jesus "in the margins", when we have time. It won't work. Trust me. I've tried.

God wants to love us, heal us, lighten our loads. We need to leave the flocks for a little while. We need to shut down the computer, turn off the wretched television, pull the buds out of our ears, and see the wondrous Lord of the universe. I've found, again and again, that these few moments away from flocks and cares are vital if there's to be genuine life, creativity, intimacy, joy, in my own life. Yes, this is Christmas - it's letting everything go for a little bit in order to encounter the source. Hopefully, we'll find what we've been missing and never let of of Him again.

Merry Christmas

Aask Aaron - On Writing

Aask Aaron – A forum where Aaron Donley provides insightful and educated perspectives for the questions being raised in our time.

Thomas in Oklahoma:

Dear Aaron,

I want so badly to be a successful Christian writer of essays and such, but can’t seem to get a breakthrough with the publishers. My material is thoughtful and unassuming, and I think enjoyable, or at least has been to my non-Christian friends. What do I do?

My dear Thomas,

I too cringe at writing that always has to have a point. Or an essay about your life that wraps up with some quick little thing that happened to you containing a clean moral nugget that changed your life forever. Usually these stories have a certain feigned humility, but in the end the author just wants you to think about how right his views are. That’s why I think sometimes in our writing we just need to let things be. We just need to let life happen naturally on the page. I remember when my first child was born how hurried and nervous everyone was. But, as we ran through the hospital waiting room I caught a glimpse of a crucifix hanging over in the corner. For that one moment I paused, took a deep breath, and somehow grasped that life is more than my anxieties. From then on just a little piece of me learned to take things as they come. -To appreciate every moment. This is what life is all about Thomas. And that’s how you’ll make it as a Christian writer.

This has been Aask Aaron.

Proposition 9 Passes; Coffee Banned in Utah

Salt Lake City, Utah. After passing by less than 3,000 votes, Proposition 9, which outlaws the sale of all caffeinated beverages, roasted coffee beans, and teas, has sharply divided the Salt Lake community. Coffee drinkers and Starbucks employees have twice staged marches and demonstrations at the Salt Lake City Mormon Temple in protest of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ efforts in support of the Proposition.

Herb Heffernander, an employee of the local coffee shop, Awesome Beans says more protests are planned. “We’re just so mad that they would take this away from us,” says Heffernander. “It’s only motivated by religion and it’s splitting families apart.”

However, the strife is not limited to LDS church members and coffee drinkers; divisions are surfacing among the Mormon faithful.

Doctrine and Covenants 89 simply states that ‘hot drinks are not for the body or belly’ and doesn’t clearly identify coffee or caffeine,” says Mormon Bishop Franklin Plopshelf. He also suggests that tea should be viewed in light of Joseph Smith’s revelation about herbs, which are for the use of man.

Many Mormons who supported Proposition 9 say it’s about the spirit of D&C 89. “Coffee is destroying this nation,” states Linda Low, a Salt Lake resident who worked on the Yes on 9 campaign. “It’s an abomination.” Low argues that Bishop Plopshelf is more concerned with the image of the church and it’s ability to reach out to the younger generation rather than a strict adherence to scripture.

The Local Coffee Roasters Association of Main Street has vowed to challenge the Proposition in court and more protests are expected. A claim of election law violations against the LDS church as also been filed by the Association, claiming that the church overstepped it’s tax exempt status by entering the political arena. The church has made no comment.


The Michael Jordan of NBA Commercials

One of my favorite sayings of all-time is "The Michael Jordan of..." I'm not sure why. Maybe because it uses my name? One things's for sure, though...Michael Jordan was the Tiger Woods of basketball.

And, apparently, the Seattle Supersonics were the Babe Ruth of Michael Jordans when it came to team commercials. First, they had this classic, featuring "The Gary Payton of Poultry":

I'm loathe to admit this, since he was a Sonic AND an Oregon State Beaver, but Gary Payton might be my all-time favorite NBA player.

Later, the Sonics ran these commercials, featuring former Sonics center Predrag Drobnjak. (and his cat, Jinkies!)

Now, sadly, the Sonics are in Oklahoma City, where they can't even get graphic design right.

I miss them up there, in the Emerald City. Portlanders take every chance they can to rub success in the face of their privileged neighbor to the north...crowing about the success of our sports teams keeps us warm when the tax revenue from Bill Gates and Paul Allen comes rolling in. Please, David Stern, get this city a team while Portland is in the midst of its dynasty...


More LOL Pastors

Chad Started it. More LOL pastrz.

Rick Warren: Probably Right Where He Needs to Be

It's been announced that Pastor Rick Warren, of Saddleback and the Purpose-Driven Life fame, will be delivering the inaugural prayer for President-elect Barak Obama.

Naturally, the reactions have been mixed. Gawker headlined the news calling Pastor Warren a bigot. Warren was opposed to Prop 8 in the recent California vote. Warren is quoted as saying that "This is not a political issue, it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about."

The outrage by some liberals has probably blocked some conservatives from complaining that Pastor Warren is praying at the ceremony of a leader who promised to usher in the Freedom of Choice Act, a bill that is patently not pro-life. Rick recently stated that "making abortions more rare" isn't good enough.

I'm encouraged that Pastor Warren is praying at Obama's Inauguration and that by doing so is confounding those on the right and the left. Two thousand years Jesus' ministry repeated crossed the lines of the religious Right and the religious Left (The Pharisees and the Sadducees). Jesus ignored these group's boundary markers and went about building the kingdom.

Thanks Rick for doing the same.



When I look around the Internet I see lots of folks having success taking secular ideas and making them Christian.  Take for instance John Acuff, who has made millions off his blog, Stuff Christians Like, which he admits is a blatant rip off of this site.  I figure we at Burnside should not miss a golden opportunity to make millions for ourselves, so here is the first installment of LOLPastors.

The Chanukah Miracle

Let's face facts: we probably don't have many Jewish readers. All the same, everyone here at Burnside (except Penny Carothers, who's a rampant anti-Semite) would like to wish our Jewish friends a happy Chanukah. I know it's not the biggest Jewish holiday out there, but the Maccabees were badass. In commemoration of this, the first day of Chanukah, I'd like to share with you a story.


Some years ago, our friends Dan and Caryn held a feast during Hannukah and invited all their goyim friends. We wandered over to their house off Hawthorne on a cold night, and we gorged ourselves on Ashkenazi delights.

They went all out. Gentiles and Jews mingled, ate and drank wine. But I was glued to the kitchen table.

As favors, Dan and Caryn purchased a load of cheap, wooden dreidels. As I sat chatting at the table, I was fidgety, spinning the top over and over. After a while, I began to notice something peculiar.

Dreidels have four sides: Nun, Gimel, Hei and Shin. The thing was, only two sides were coming up: Nun and Hei.

And I don't mean they were coming up more often. I mean they were the only sides coming up, almost every time.

I sat at the table and spun and spun. I examined this cheap piece of blue-painted wood like it was the Hope Diamond. It wasn't shaped strangely, it didn't spin erratically. I gave other dreidels at the party a whirl, and all four sides would come up evenly. I wasn't the only one to check: at least six other partygoers examined the dreidel closely, including at least three doctors (okay, they were medical students).

Later that night, at the Moon and Sixpence, I showed my magic dreidel to my friends John, Steve and Trevor. We gave that dreidel 1,000 turns (more, actually, but that was what we counted). It landed on Gimel and Shin 4 times.

I couldn't believe my newfound treasure. That night, I slipped it into my jacket pocket where I knew it would be safe.

But I never saw it again.


Here are my two questions:
1) To anyone out there who might know something about physics: what happened here? I mean, even if the dreidel was weighted, it still couldn't produce those types of numbers, right?

2) To anyone out there who might know something about Judaism: if the spins had nothing to do with the dreidel's physical makeup, then what was this dreidel telling us? Do Nun and Hei mean something important? Is it significant if Gimel and Shin never come up?
The Dreidel, both its arrival and sudden vanishing, remain one of my life's greatest mysteries. Was it a gift from a future me, a la Gray's Sports Almanac? Could its overwhelming odds have better prepared me for the current recession through a lucrative career as a grifter? I MISS YOU, DREIDEL!!!


Magic Apples

I’ve come to believe that knowing God’s will is not an exact science and it’s our desire for precise formulas that gets us in trouble. Back in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve depended on an ongoing conversation with God to understand his will concerning right and wrong. Satan made them discontent with that arrangement and convinced rely on “technology” to understand morality. Satan offered access to God’s views on right and wrong through eating a piece of fruit, and in the process made God superfluous. The truth is God doesn’t offer us formulas, fruit, tarot cards and other “exact science” methods of knowing his will. God offers us a relationship with himself and we all know how unmanageable that can be.

The root of our problem is that we want God to hand us a magic apple and let us be on our way. Meanwhile God wants be generous and share parts of his will with us in the context of an ongoing, loving dialogue. Our hunger to know God’s will is an invitation, placed deep within us, to encounter God and to know his love.

We’re an awful lot like Ipods.

A few years ago my luck changed when it came to buying my wife gifts. Half of every piece of clothing or jewelry I’ve ever bought Amy was exchanged. Not for a lack of effort on my part; I agonize over gift buying. A few Valentine Day’s ago I bought Amy an Ipod Mini and she loved it. Amy transferred the bulk of her CD collection to the Ipod’s hard drive. And wherever she goes, she can listen to whatever is on the drive. One limit of the Ipod is it’s unable to pick up even one of the dozen radio waves that constantly crash against its shell.

All it takes to pick up a radio signal is a cheap Kmart radio.

Friends, you and I have been designed to behave like a radio. God is near and is constantly speaking to us. We’re designed for constant communication with God. However, our sin natures have pointed our antennae inward.

How can we hear from God? Part of the answer is that we need to participate in God’s ongoing change process and to become people who are interested and capable of hearing from God.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans outlines this connection between allowing yourself to be changed by God and your ability to hear from him:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 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, pleasing and perfect will.”
Romans 12:1-2

The link between participating in God’s change and hearing from God is not one of legalism or behavioral modification. The plain truth is that people who are driven by their inward bent are ultimately not interested in hearing from God—they are just looking for that magic apple. This is one of the mercies that come with seeking God’s will: The process drives us to God and makes us more like Christ.

This Meditation is an excerpt from Larry's book, Divine Intention: How God's Work in the Early Church Empowers Us Today.


Living in the Heart of Mormondom: The Great Divide

From the Atlantic to the Pacific it’s easy to see how far diversity divides America. Obama vs. McCain, Democrat, Republican, abortion, guns, marriage, immigration, vouchers, climate change, dark beer vs. light, the Yankees, and so on. But often these differences reside on specific issues. In Salt Lake City, “The Great Divide” is determined by membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints —Mormon vs. Gentile, as is often said here, jokingly.

On July 24, 1847, Brigham Young, the prophet successor to Joseph Smith and leader of the Mormon Church, made his famous “This is the place” deceleration as he entered what is now the Salt Lake valley. At that time, the land was a disputed part of Mexico and outside the reach of US control. Shortly there after, non-Mormons, including traders, businessmen, and the soldiers sent to keep a watchful eye on the situation entered the valley. And The Great Divide began splitting one community further away from the other.

There’s no shortage of stories about The Great Divide; many fascinating historical examples have found their way into books, both for and against the respective sides. Present day examples include the constant struggle over liquor laws, zoning of LDS owned city developments, the Utah vs. BYU rivalry (which unlike most rivalries, feeds on the difference of religion rather than physical location), two news papers— the Mormon owned and the other, adoption policies, businesses open on the Sabbath, Mitt Romney’s bid for the Presidency, and the street preachers who stand on Temple Square and scream vulgarities at the Mormons in the name of God.

How we handle these issues either work toward bridging The Great Divide or widening it; and I believe followers of Christ have a greater responsibility to bridge the chasm to our neighbors.

It would seem that this holds true for almost every community with a difference of religion.

So, when the missionaries knock on my door, I don’t prepare for battle and I don’t start working out my plan to convert them with word traps and mind games. I simply set myself to be the most hospitable home they visit that day. Wouldn’t that be the expectation when visiting a Christian? While I stand on what I believe, I don’t try to trample their beliefs. I seek the common ground and save the rest for another time, maybe once we've gotten to know one another better.

When topics of religion come up with Mormon co-workers or neighbors, I first try to understand the definitions of the conversation. As it turns out, sometimes we don’t have the same meaning for commonly assumed ideas; and better understanding what a person is saying shows a greater respect for that person, even if you don’t agree with her statements.

Engaging in the community, even if it’s different, is a good way to first understand and than change or influence from within. Often in Salt Lake, The Great Divide is the strongest between the Mormons and other faith-based communities. There are people who won’t let their kids trick-or-treat certain houses, clicks at work are often Mormon or Non-Mormon, community events tend to lean extremely one way or the other with no consideration for the community as a whole, and on and on. It’s a ridiculous way for a community to grow when one group sees that other group as a cancer.

I wonder how many other cities have issues similar to Salt Lake? I’m guessing most. So why then haven’t the followers of Christ figured out how to be better neighbors? Maybe we'll get it someday, hopefully more sooner than later.


Interview with Bishop Charles Ellis

Last Sunday, Greater Grace Temple, a church in Detroit, Michigan, brought three hybrid SUVs onto their altar. During the service, Bishop Charles Ellis lead his congregation in prayers for the bailout of the auto industry to go through.

Yesterday, I posted an entry about the service, and I admitted that it bothered me. But I wanted to hear the Bishop Ellis's side. I emailed the church with an interview request, and Greater Grace's Communications Director, Melvin Epps, kindly connected me to Bishop Ellis, who graciously answered my questions.

Jordan Green: First of all, thank you for taking the time to talk with us.

I feel like I should explain something here. I am a white, middle-class Christian from Portland, Oregon. For myself and many of our readers, hearing the report about Greater Grace Temple’s Sunday service elicited a sense of cynicism. The idea of putting cars up on the altar seems like sacrilege.

But the more I read about your church, the more I realized the cultural differences at play...racial, cultural, theological and geographical...and I wanted to ask for your side of the story. For starters, can you tell us what your community is facing with the threat of the major American automakers collapsing? How has your congregation been affected so far?

Bishop Charles Ellis: We have seen the workforce of the automotive industry decrease over the past four decades. We have, as well, witnessed those who remain in the industry experiencing pay and benefit cuts. Even one worker having to do the work of many in both the blue and white collar divisions. When a plant closes, it devastates the township, community, area stores and businesses.

I felt the burden of these workers and felt compelled of God to address the crisis spiritually in my second Sunday worship service. The sermon God gave me was entitled “A Hybrid Hope” and I thought to have some illustrated props as my background to drive the point home. There was not even a second thought as to the hybrid vehicles, because our church is very passionate about illustrations. We minister several illustrated sermons per year and have used various props (horses, donkeys, chickens, roosters, golf carts, vehicles, pyrotechnics, etc).

Our illustrations have become so widely known that buses come from as far as Indiana, Illinois and Ohio to view them. All of our illustrated messages conclude with hundreds giving their lives to Christ, being baptized in water and receiving the Holy Spirit. We firmly believe that our methods are effective and we will never try to minister to an “iPod” generation with an “8 track cassette tape” method. Illustrations is the way for Greater Grace Temple and Bishop Charles H. Ellis III.

JG: Why do you think the auto industry is in trouble? Is there a spiritual aspect to the dangers they now face?

Bishop Ellis: There is probably enough blame to go around with respect to the failures of our automotive industry. Executive decisions, planning strategies, futuristic outlooks, compensation packages, workforce cost, designs and efficiency have all played a role in our ability to viably compete in this global automotive community. The encouraging thing is that all segments of the industry seem to be working together to make the necessary sacrifices to solve this crisis.

JG: Why do you think a majority of Americans are opposed to a bailout?

Bishop Ellis: I believe that most Americans have a bad taste from the bailouts of the financial and insurance industries, especially in the aftermath of unwise corporate executive decisions to use some of those funds for elegant retreats. I also think much of America does not fully understand the intertwined dependence of many of our communities to healthy automotive plants and its industry.

JG: There was a picture taken recently of a group of white Evangelical Christians praying for the economy over a bronze bull on Wall Street. To many, the image brought to mind the Israelites praying to a golden calf while Moses was with God on Mount Sinai. Fairly or unfairly, photos from Greater Grace’s Sunday service might prompt a similar response. How would you respond to those making that comparison?

Bishop Ellis: I would ask people to consider the totality of the demonstration before they chime in with a response. In a court of law, the jury cannot discuss or deliberate until ALL the evidence is in. Any Christian worth his/her religious worth would not likely pass any judgment until they have full understanding of what they are considering. The Bible says in Proverbs 4:7, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” My full sermon and ministry presentation can be viewed on our website, www.greatergrace.org.

JG: Do you believe Christians in America have a problem with materialism?

Bishop Ellis: I believe that there are enough Christians in America to have many different opinions on materialism as well as other subjects including praise and worship styles, tithing, fasting, apparel, adornment, non-Christian activities, etc. This is probably why we have so diverse a church community and hundreds of religious organizations.

JG: Do you think there is a chasm between white and African-American churches in the United States? If so, what do you think are the primary reasons for that divide?

Bishop Ellis: I firmly believe that slavery, segregation and years of discrimination have done irreparable harm to the spirit of fellowship within God’s church (not the building, but the ecclesia). I have for a long time held the view that it is not strange to witness a Caucasian-lead church with a significant African-American population, but the opposite is very rare even in the largest of African-American congregations.

JG: How can we be praying for your congregation and the city of Detroit?

Bishop Ellis: I would hope that everyone would at least be praying for the will of God to take preeminence in this crisis and not the political agendas of man. In praying for us you are actually praying for yourselves as well. Remember that we are all interdependent of one another.


Great Christian Music: Daniel Amos

I lack any sort of healthy perspective regarding Daniel Amos, the legendary and nearly totally unknown Christian alternative act of the 80's to the present. I feel like I should say that upfront. I wasn't forced to listen to Christian music as a kid, but there were some dodgy times back there when the Southern Baptist church I attended put the guilt trip on pretty hard, making me think that the Replacements and Smiths tapes I loved so much back then were going to be the soundtrack for my journey straight to hell. I wanted to like Christian music, but let's get real...in 1987, the Christian music industry's artist of the year was Sandi Patty. The Dove award winner for best rock album went to Mylon Lefevre. Nothing personal against the guy, but how relevant does this sound considering that Guns n' Roses released Appetite For Destruction the same year?

Seemingly out of nowhere, Daniel Amos emerged with a funny named album mixed in with the other tapes at my local Christian bookstore. The thing is that Daniel Amos had been around for awhile, starting their career as a country rock act in the Poco/Eagles vein performing in front of thousands of Calvary Chapel parishioners. At some point, Daniel Amos (a band, not a person) turned a corner and started playing weird new wave while disowning the rest of the Christian music biz, discarding it as lacking substance or artistry. It took until 1987 for me to hear the band which was my loss. I could have been spared at least one Degarmo & Key album purchase.

"The Shape of Air":

Of course, Darn Floor Big Bite (named for a gorilla's sign language explanation of an earthquake) bombed. See if this rings a bell: Christian music wasn't ready for an album that explored man's inability to understand God, especially one inspired by Czech poet Czeslaw Milosz. After all, there were Petra records to hear. To add insult to injury, the album would be tied up in label politics for years afterwards, so the band was unable to reissue the disc for audiences possibly more prepared. There are stacks of great Christian albums that might not ever be available again other than burnt CD-Rs passed from one fan to another. It seemed that Darn Floor Big Bite would be resigned to that fate as well.

"The Unattainable Earth"

Thankfully, due to the hard work of writer J. Edward Keyes and the Arena Rock label, Darn Floor lives again in a deluxe edition. I recognize that this entire post is sounding suspiciously like an advertisement, but it's really more like an evangelistic message. If you've ever cared about Christian music at all, if you've ever complained that real artists wouldn't get caught dead in the genre, if you spent the late 80's in the company of the Jesus and Mary Chain instead of listening to music about Jesus...you owe it yourself to pick up a copy of the Darn Floor Big Bite reissue. This is the sort of album this "Great Christian Music" feature was created for.

The Golden (Chevy) Cavalier?

Yesterday, Reuters reported one of Detroit's largest churches, Greater Grace Temple, rolled three hybrid SUVs (a Chevy Tahoe, Ford Escape and Chrysler Aspen) onto their altar, just in front of the choir.

Reverend Charles Ellis then lead the congregation in prayer, asking that Congress bail out the struggling Detroit automakers.
"We have never seen as midnight an hour as we face this week," the Rev. Charles Ellis told several thousand congregants at a rousing service at Detroit's Greater Grace Temple. "This week, lives are hanging above an abyss of uncertainty as both houses of Congress decide whether to extend a helping hand."
Like the photo of evangelicals praying for our economy by laying hands on a bronze bull, this report comes across as, to put it mildly, off. While a Chrysler hybrid lacks the bile-rising imagery of an actual golden calf, it's still a church seemingly putting their trust not in God, but in American industry.

But the auto industry is the lifeblood for much of the Midwest. For the attendees of Greater Grace Temple, the failure of the Big Three means an even more rapid decline for a region that's been faltering for years.

Beyond that, Greater Grace Temple is in a different world, culturally. As a white, middle-class male from Portland, Oregon, how could I pretend to criticize a predominantly African-American, Pentecostal church in a city with one of the highest violent crime rates in the nation? At the same time, that chasm between white and black churches seems like one of the problems with race relations. If we're brothers and sisters in Christ, shouldn't we be calling each other out, regardless of race? Is the church praying for a bailout even that bad? After all, the church is ostensibly praying to God for assistance.

I emailed Greater Grace Temple with an interview request, and they responded. I'll be sending them some questions soon.

(For a slideshow and audio clips of the service, click here.)

The Idiot Box: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Despite my love of books, I'm not often a library guy. I usually like to own the books I read, because I can put them on a shelf and make it seem like I'm cultured.

Of course, sometimes I don't read them at all, as Dan Gibson pointed out on a recent visit. "Wow, you have almost the whole series of McSweeney's Quarterlies," he deadpanned. "And most of them are unwrapped. I'm impressed."

In all fairness, have you ever tried to read a McSweeney's Quarterly? It's like, more pictures, please!

Anyway, Mindy and I made a trip to the Phoenix Central Library the other day. We knew it was off Central Avenue near downtown, so I had Mindy look it up on the Garmin we got for this strange new city.

"It's not showing up," she told me.

"What? It has to be in there. It's that huge, architecturally cool building. We've driven by it before."

"There's a Burton Barr Central Library, but that's it."

"Is it on Central Avenue?"

"Well, yes. And it's near downtown. But the others say 'public library', and this one doesn't."

"So, you're telling me this might be some sort of rogue library system separate from the bureaucratic public infrastucture?"

"Wow." She blinked at me. "It's amazing how much I hate you sometimes."

We have fun. But what does this have to do with television?

One of the books I picked up was a yellow tome titled Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Book. It's basically a recap of each episode, but the book is also loaded with interviews and tidbits of inside information. For a book rehashing episodes I've already seen, it's remarkably interesting. The book also features a biography of the life of Larry David, possibly the greatest comedic mind of his generation (and that's saying a lot considering his contemporaries).

Before "Seinfeld", David toiled fitfully in the '70s on the New York City stand-up circuit. He was a "comedian's comedian", a nice way of saying he didn't get on well with audiences, often screaming at patrons if they weren't paying attention to his act.

It's particularly fascinating, since the comedy world has molded itself around Larry David in the last two decades.

Think about it. Between 1989 and now there have been a handful of truly influential television comedies:
  • "The Simpsons": 1989 - Present
  • "Seinfeld": 1989 - 1998
  • "Frasier": 1993 - 2004
  • "South Park": 1997 - Present
  • "Curb Your Enthusiasm": 1999 - Present
  • "Arrested Development": 2003 - 2006
  • "The Office": 2005 - Present
("Friends" doesn't count because A. It didn't influence anything and B. It was unfunny at least 95% of the time.)

Larry David created "Seinfeld" and "Curb". Ricky Gervais has long stated "The Office" was directly influenced by the improvised documentary style of "Curb", and it's difficult to imagine "Arrested Development"'s self-obsessed Bluths getting airtime without "Seinfeld" setting the precedent years earlier. If you take out "The Simpsons" (which heavily influenced "South Park") and "Frasier", which was sort of its own thing, you've got a list of show's which wouldn't have happened without a particular awkward, balding, caustic, Brooklyn-born Jew.

All this is more or less an excuse to post an excerpt from Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Book which had me laughing for a solid two minutes. Richard Lewis, David's long time friend and fellow comedian, is being interviewed about David's early days.
Do you remember the first time you saw him perform?

I remember I walked into the back of Catch a Rising Star and the first thing I saw was a bit about how he was ill at ease with dating, and how the only way he could conceivably pick up a woman at a bar was to walk in and say "My name is O'Banion! And I want a companion!" It was dark and funny and twisted and I immediately thought, 'Anyone who can come up with a premise like that I want to know and become his friend'. By that point I never wanted to hear another premise, but I had to see Larry.
No kidding. I'll close with my favorite "Curb" scene of all-time. It contains the word "bull$#!^" if you're squeamish about those things.


Part of the Solution: How I Wrap My Baby's Bum

If you’re like me there’s something that you do at least four times a day that you’d rather avoid. It’s not brushing my teeth (I’m not that neurotic), eating my vegetables, or checking my email. All you moms (and savvy title readers) out there guessed it - it’s changing diapers. When my daughter was really small it was often amazing and sweet and sometimes even delightful because we’d just Italicstare into each other’s eyes while we oohed and gooed. But now she’s almost two and she runs away from me and says, “no!” and “naked!” and it’s all I can do to wrestle her to the ground and get that thing on. But this dance is all just a part of having a kid – it’s amazing, frustrating, fun fun fun, and sometimes downright nasty. Like when I have to get diarrhea from her diaper into the toilet. Yuck. No, I don’t like to torture myself, it’s just part of what using cloth diapers is all about (and thankfully, it happens very seldom).

I decided to use cloth diapers a long time before diarrhea appeared on the scene, before Quinn even showed up. My mother used them because that’s just what you do in a hippie commune, and she didn’t even have a washing machine. My sister and I would stomp our own diapers in the bathtub when we were old enough, and wear the clean ones underneath crocheted diaper covers. My Dad was quick to get me out of those things, and I can see why. I have a washer and dryer in my basement (even though I usually hang them dry), and a plentiful supply of water and detergent that does all the dirty work. I think Quinn would have been out of diapers a year ago if I’d had to go through what my parents did.

But it wasn’t just my parent’s example that got me hooked on cloth diapers. Other cloth diapering parents cite many reasons beyond care for the earth and the cost, but these two are my main rationale. Not only have I have saved thousands of dollars this way, but I just couldn’t imagine throwing all that waste right into our landfills – especially the kind that belongs in the sewer system.

I spent less than $300 on my cloth diapers (bumgenius for those that are interested) plus energy and detergent costs of around $125 for a 2 ½ years worth of diapering, in comparison to about $2500 for disposables (see this site for a cost breakdown). I love them, which is great, since I’ll be using them for my second, too – for virtually nothing. Despite popular belief, they are so convenient and easy, and the only real difference between these and disposables (we use seventh generation throw-aways for nighttime and trips) is Quinn’s big cloth diaper bum – which, really, is kind of cute.

If all of this has sparked your interested and you’re interested in knowing some more facts on why I made this decision, you can find them at this site (and below). Most of it has to do with the waste of resources and long trail of pollution at every stage of production and disposal. This information comes from Donella H. Meadows, an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College, who takes a look at the claim (based, she says, on sound research) that cloth diapers may be just as environmentally taxing as disposables. Despite these studies, she believes that disposable diapers have a greater environmental impact than cloth. All the same, her final conclusion says that it’s almost beside the point. It’s worth quoting in its entirety:

"It's great to try to move our lives in the direction of ecological righteousness, but it's also true that every human activity has environmental impact -- especially the activities of that fraction of the human population rich enough to have diapers of any kind. From the earth's point of view it's not all that important which kind of diapers you use. The important decision was having the baby."

I couldn’t agree more. And I still believe that cloth diapering is a better choice for my family and the environment. Here’s why:

• Diapers account for nearly 3 percent of municipal landfills.

• Eighty percent of the diaperings in this nation are done with disposables. That comes to 18 BILLION diapers a year.

• Those 18 billion diapers add up to 82,000 tons of plastic a year and 1.3 million tons of wood pulp -- 250,000 trees. After a few hours of active service these materials are trucked away, primarily to landfills, where they sit, neatly wrapped packages of excrement, entombed undegraded for several hundred years.

• It is illegal in most states to dump human waste in landfills. That law is simply unenforced when it comes to diapers. Theoretically they could infest the water leaching out of the dump with bacteria and viruses (polio, hepatitis, dysentery), though that has never been known to happen. Perhaps the other ingredients in leachate are toxic enough to kill human pathogens. Perhaps the diapers are so nondegradable that they don't leak their contents. Perhaps we just haven't waited long enough.

• Hershkowitz's data (the study referenced above) show that disposables use 10 times more resources (measured by weight and including fuels) than cloth diapers and produce 50 times more solid waste. But disposables use only half as much energy and two-thirds as much water. Cloth diapers save landfills but load washing machines and sewage systems (by putting sewage where it belongs).

• We are comparing apples and oranges here -- and cotton pesticides, eroded soil from cotton fields, emissions from logging trucks, oil spills, hazardous wastes from refineries and petrochemical and plastics plants. None of the analyses so far comes close to including all these environmental impacts, much less properly comparing their dangers. (Bulleted information provided by Donella Meadows)

That’s enough to convince me and I hope – if it doesn’t convince you – that it gets you thinking about this, and other costs of the lifestyle we lead in the Western world. Please post any thoughts or comments you have.