Folds With Mac

Ben Folds is a musician I particularly enjoy. I’ve written about him before. Folds is a gifted pianist, putting the thing back where it belongs as the best of all instruments in terms of flexibility. The Piano Forte it’s called, and for good reason. He’s a master. But, disclaimer for Folds and lyrics: kids, don’t use his swears.

Anyway, I took Mac (now 14) to see Folds at the Kalamazoo State Theater. We had a grand time celebrating his (Mac’s) birthday. His first concert, an artist that he, too, respects and emulates, and a chance to bump into Radio’s Ben Barnes and his wonderful wife. They sat in front of us because some people didn’t show up.

Most memorable is watching Mac enjoy the show. He snagged a tshirt from the merch table afterwards, which I hope will be a good memory-maker for him (at $30, it’d better make him be able to fly).

You dare photograph me during an especially memorable experience? For shame!

Folds, a consummate piano player, also knows his way around a drum set. The pianoforte is, after all, a percussion instrument. Yet the drums are not a pianoforte instrument. Interesting. Sort of.

No capo.

I’m so proud of Mac. He’s got a strong ear and appreciates good stuff. I love being his dad and watching him grow up, though I must remember that he is a boy who shaves and not quite a man yet. I’m ready for another year of him being and becoming, a true honor for me as a dad. I am not, however, ready for him to start driving a car.

Happy Birthday, Mac. Love you, buddy.

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Becky walked to her care with purpose, just as she was trained.  Opening the door, she looked behind her to see the coffee shop she just left. Next door was an Urgent Care clinic.  A young mother ushered her son, who looked to be about 6, in through the entryway and out of Becky’s sight.  It reminded her of all the trips to the hospital for checkups, x-rays, reconstructive surgeries, followups and more surgeries yet.  Spending so much time in the hospital gave Becky thick skin when it came to gruesome or fear-generating medical procedures.  It crossed Becky’s mind to become a Doctor, because she believed she could do whatever she set her mind to.  She sat in her car and looked down.  Not at her knees, poking out through the rips in her jeans, and not at the bottom of the steering wheel where she tended to hold on.  Becky looked at nothing.  She fiddled with her keys without thinking, finding the match by feel.  Her apartment key had horizontal lines, the mailbox key was short and always felt greasy for some reason, but her car key had a distinctive mass to it, due in part to the buttons that locked and unlocked the doors.  Her thumb found its way to the red panic button under the lock and unlock buttons.  She thought about pressing it, not because she was in danger but because she was angry.  Why did he say that?  What was he hoping she would say in return?  Becky had been broken up with before.  Hers was a life of adventure, rejection, new adventure.  It wasn’t the breakup.  It was what he said.  Something about her limp, how it made him uncomfortable in public and how he felt guilty for even thinking it.  Then why’d he say it?  Something about how his dad made a joke about Becky walking in circles because one leg is shorter than the other, which was code in his family for rejection.  In many families, this counted as loving banter, good natured teasing.  Or at least Becky thought so.  No one ever made fun of her for her disability, not to her face.  It was hard not to notice.  That’s what hurt: he broke the rule and said what he really thought about Becky.  For her sake, for his sake, it was better this way.  He just wasn’t ready.  It’s not you, it’s me.  

Becky remembered what a family friend said to her in middle school. We can respond to our disabilities in one of two ways.  We can hide it, which is hard unless we hide from people, which often happens.  Or, we can embrace it and choose to be who we are, regardless of what people will think.  This is not a choice made once but repeatedly, daily and sometimes moment by moment.   Becky made the decision a long time ago, supported by family and friends, that her disability would not be a hinderance.  She decided this every day, over and over, until it became second nature.  Of course, when her now ex brought it up, it was not what she wanted but surely what she asked for.  She wanted him to acknowledge it.  It stung to hear it from the other side.  

Becky started her car.  Sliding the gearshift into reverse, she backed her Saturn out of the tight parking spot and headed home.  Tomorrow would be another day.  A better day.  A new adventure.  Becky slowly but gracefully made her way up the stairs to her apartment.  She insisted on having an apartment on the second floor, only to prove to the manager that she was capable after he insinuated that, of course, Becky would want a handicapped-accessible room on the first floor by the blue-striped parking spots.  Of course.  Becky insisted: of course not.   The decision was made again that day, that moment, to embrace her disability.  When she finally got up to the top of the stairs and turned left, she reached into her pocket to get her keys.  Feeling the greasy key, she whispered under her breath.  Forgot to check the mailbox on the way up.   Tomorrow.  It could wait until tomorrow, when the new adventure began.  There was already something to go after.  

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Chili & Hoodie Weather

The temperature has plummeted (relatively speaking) here in Southwest Michigan, and most of us are pretty happy about it being cooler than it was this summer. According to an official unofficial poll that I’ve been accidentally taking, 100% of respondents report that they love or really love this weather. I didn’t mean to collect this data, it’s just that people around me have voluntarily stated with frank assurance that they love this weather. Their love is fueled by either 1) hoodies or 2) the crisp air. It is interesting how we can converse with total strangers about weather. People in Florida spend most of their time between air conditioned spaces running for their lives from the variously oppressive heat, so they have only one thing to talk about — how hot it is — and there’s no point in bringing that up more than a few times a year. Here in Michigan, however, we have 3-5 opportunities per day to make small talk about the weather because it changes so much.

So, I made some chili. Here’s my recipe:

  • Darn Good Chili Mix (usta be a swear, but they changed it for the kids)
  • Pound of beef
  • Little can of jalapeños
  • Tomato Paste (does not taste like traditional paste)
  • A quart of Pico De Gaio
  • Whatever canned beans you want to add — even Busch’s tastes great
  • A small can of corn with added green and red peppers, drained
  • Several squirts (official unit of measure) of Sweet Baby Ray’s
  • Chili Powder
  • Brown Sugar
  • Chili Powder
  • Brown Sugar (balance to taste)
  • Maybe some oatmeal, if it’s too watery
  • Diced onion

Cooking directions: Make the chili.

The chili turned out pretty good. The only thing missing? A hoodie. No, not in the chili, but on my torso and heady. In fact, by my count, 5 of my hoodies are missing. That’s because I have a son who wears most of my clothes, including my shoes, and because he gives my hoodies to his friends. It’s fine.

Wherever you are, I hope you’re enjoying this fall day, especially if you’re in Florida.

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Ron’s Retirement

For Homecoming ’19, I was asked to share about the impact that Chaplain Ron Kopicko made on me while I was a student at Spring Arbor University.  As Ron transitions from one chapter to the next, his ministry will continue, I hope, for years to come.  Some things cannot be adequately put into words.  Here’s my best. 

Fall of 1998 had me sitting outside Lowell Hall with hundreds of incoming freshman and transfer students, listening together to a new student orientation designed to get us inspired and on the right track at Spring Arbor College.  Suddenly a man with a huge beard, deep stare, and stylish sweater vest took the stage and did what can only be likened to a sudden midnight freight train: we were startled and snapped to attention.

Ron launched into a litany of what I would eventually recognize as just a few of his trademark phrases:

Oh, my aching shattered nerves… 

What does the scripture say!?! 

You know what I find fascinating about ____________ !?!

That’s in the book of first opinions.  

Back when people were coming to Jesus like it was goin’ out of style!

Shut up.

Incidentally,  Ron can get away with saying shut up, but not me.

I recognized this person from somewhere… but where?  Then it hit me.  He’s a modern John the Baptist.  Clothing made of camel hair?  Sweater vest.  Eats wild honey?  No sign of botulism, so probably.  Eats locusts?  Yes, because he’s been on mission trips.  Shouting and raving, pointing passionately to Messiah?  Yep, yep, and yep.

It was fun to watch Ron teach at a weekly bible study called By the Book and, more importantly, to be under his teaching as a student at Spring Arbor.  He would ask the room rhetorical questions that only the freshman would try to answer.  There is never a correct answer to Ron’s question. Should you be fortunate enough to give the word/phrase he’s looking for, Ron will internally change the answer.  This was strategic on his part and kept us on our toes.  It has been said that “you don’t know what you don’t know.”  With every question, Ron was setting us up to learn something.

One time, Ron asked about 500 of us “How do we break the law?  How do we know we need the law?”  I raised my hand, and my fellow upperclassmen thought I was out of my mind.  I said “Because we do stupid things like ride our yellow mopeds around campus without wearing a helmet?” (a direct reference to, well, what Ron did).  He told me to shut up.  So I did.

I spent time on-on-one with Ron over the years.  He is the model of being fully present.  Even though his stare can get a little… intense… he none the less listens with warmth and grace.  Whether in counseling or up front, Ron modeled a deepening love for Jesus, memorizing scripture, the importance of actually doing what scripture says, and having the right expectations.  Stuff I didn’t even know I needed, even though I was a college student and knew everything.

I won’t even get into what Ron taught me about speaking to groups, but let’s just say my impression of him is based on a deep appreciation and love for his character and teaching style.  There’s nothing like it.  Kopicko once talked to me about how he had the chance to “make it big” by writing a bunch of books and speaking nationwide.  I asked him why he didn’t make that jump.  He quoted the great Howard Hendricks who said

You can impress people from a distance, but you only make an impact up close.

Ron actually lived this out, and I’m glad to be one of the thousands who have been impacted by his faithfulness to the Lord and to the students and community of Spring Arbor University.

Thanks Ron — for being faithful to your calling.  For not going big but staying in the bubble with us.  For not thinking too highly of yourself.  For pointing people to Jesus with consistency, grace, and intention.  Thank you.

Please don’t stop.

There are more to be impacted.

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Happy Birthday to Dave the Engineer

Happy Birthday Dave the Engineer!  During my time at Home.FM’s Mornings at Home and our evening version Mornings at Home – Baywatch Nights, David Benson oversaw all engineering for the radio station, which I believe he still does.

Anyway, Dave was kind enough to lend his voice to the Mornings at Home inbox.  Thanks to advanced internet technology, here’s just a snippet of the birthday boy, circa 2011 or so.

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Yes, There Will be a Recession

Economists and politicians are bantering about a likely recession in the coming years.   These are bad optics for some, stark truth for others, and dismissible news for optimists.  To be honest, I can’t help but pay attention.  My hunch is that more than a few are watching, especially as it relates to retirement, 401Ks and all that.

Listen, I’m no math major, but recessions are inevitable.  Economies get bigger, get smaller, lurch back and forth and find their way.  The numbers morph in weird ways. Straight lines only show up with certain kinds of depreciation.  Things are too unpredictable and complex to follow a well charted course.  We have to project, forecast, go with our gut.  It’s like being a meteorologist: It’s probably going to rain, but maybe not.  If I’m right, I’m good, but if I’m wrong, the uh… models were off.  It’s like this: when you’re right 51% of the time, you’re wrong 49% of the time.Growth without some loss is impossible because economic systems need to correct themselves.  Think of them like respiration.  Breathe in (expand, grow) / breathe out (contract, shrink).  It’s the nature of the free market.

Followers of Jesus don’t freak out over threats of bad news.  Jesus tells us not to worry, so, when economists start wringing their hands, we don’t wring along.  We stand firm.  Of course, this way of living both ways.  If a portfolio fattens up during the good times, we know better than to put our hope in money.  We stand firm.

Of course there’s going to be a recession, because economic recessions follow economic expansion.  And…?

The real question is: what are the people who claim hope fixated on?  his, by the way, is a first-world problem and should be seen as such.  Many of our sisters and brothers in the world don’t care about stocks because dinner — and where it might come from, if anywhere — is more pressing.

Just a thought.  A sermon for myself, perhaps.  I think I needed to hear it.


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I Ate Two Hamburgers, ok?

I was snagging lunch with a fellow pastor at the jazzy and swanky Union in downtown Kalamazoo.  He and I meet a few times a year for food and fellowship, always at The Union, and always on Tuesday, because that’s the day burgers are really cheap – like more than half off.  That’ll do, cow.  That’ll do.

We both ordered the Angry Burger, which is basically a cheeseburger with a Siracha Mayo topping and some jalapeños.   That’s why it’s called angry: it bites back, both at the meal and later on (in case you were wondering).

As I ate my cheeseburger, I did the math.  I needed more calories, and this was the cheapest way to get more calories, as well as more protein and some outstanding sautéed vegetables.  After I finished my Angry Burger, I ordered another one of the same.  The server thought I was joking (admittedly, I’ve dad joked before re: their refill policy on the pop and also the hamburgers, ha harrr haarrrr, so her skepticism was aptly warranted).  Eventually she believed me and hit Ctrl+C, then Ctrl+V on her restaurant terminal.

You read that right.  I sat down, ordered lunch, ate it all, and ordered the same thing again and ATE THAT MEAL TOO.   Like a glutton.  Or that one guy from Popeye who loves hamburgers.  Google suggests Wimpy was his name and that he looks like this:

“I’d gladly pay you Tuesday for several hamburgers today!”

But I did the math and, I promise, social graces aside, this was the best way by far to procure more calories that weren’t essentially Pizza. I’m not sure why I’m so adamant to defend myself on a blog post that my friend Ed (and about 20 other people) will read, and it’s not that I fear being judged.  Or… maybe I do fear judgement?  Is that the burning in my stomach?

No, wait.  That’s the Angry Burgers.  I’ll be ok.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Am I the only one who has done this before?
  2. Is Siracha a condiment or a subculture?  People sure are into that stuff right now.  Are you, or is it too spicy?
  3. Do you have favorite restaurants that you go to specifically for the timely discounts?  Any suggestions for some sweet deals?  Protein is important.  Thanks.
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