Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cheers to You, Netflix

So we finally caved in and subscribed to Netflix last April.  Noticing that the service offered a few classic TV shows, I immediately embarked upon a quest to watch the entire 11-year, 271-episode run of "Cheers."

From the time I was five until I learned to drive, "Cheers" was on Thursday nights at 8 and, by the time I was in junior high, was also on in syndication every weeknight after the local news.  Ironically my mom and I, complete teetotalers, would watch the comedy set in a bar almost every night. 

I had not seen an episode of "Cheers" for almost 20 years; here are my observations and a few things I learned:
  • I was shocked how young the cast was; most of them were in their early 30's when the show began, as young or younger than I am now.  In real life, the cast is about the same age as my parents.
  • My chief question going into this was, Diane or Rebecca?  Diane's obnoxious snobbery was, in a word, obnoxious; more so than I had remembered.  When Shelley Long left after five seasons, a routine running gag was making digs at her character, including at least one directed more at Long and her early departure from the successful show.  But Rebecca's pathetic self-loathing meltdowns were both funny and endearing.  Kirstie Alley's sympathetic train wreck of a character was the hands down winner.
  • I had forgotten that Diane factored into the three-part series finale.  I'm with Carla; that woman is trouble.
  • My second big question, was looking for hints about the "Frasier" spinoff in "Cheers."  There aren't any; the show wasn't fully conceived until the "Cheers" production was finished.  I noticed, however, that twice over the years Frasier mentions being orphaned.  In the spinoff Frasier lives with his father.  This is explained when Sam appears on "Frasier" and Frasier says he lied because he was fighting with his father and was mad at him. [Thanks, IMDB trivia]
  • John Mahoney, who plays Frasier's father in "Frasier," appears in a scene with Kelsey Grammar in the final season as an advertising man.  "Fraiser" co-star Peri Gilpin (Roz) also made an appearance later in that season as a reporter.  You also can spot multiple actors from other NBC shows like "Seinfeld" and "Night Court" playing bit parts.  I haven't looked up all the connections on IMDB, but you can find even more crossovers as the principle actors from "Cheers" made many appearances together in each other's future works in television, live stage, and voice acting.
  • I'd not realized how frequently the 2nd tier of barflies was involved in the action.  Norm, Cliff and Frazier naturally get most of the attention but another half-dozen actors routinely appeared around the bar as customers and were frequently given speaking parts.  In later seasons, the character "Paul" was almost as involved as Cliff and Norm.
  • Cliff's postal uniform, specifically the jacket, changed in the last season.  His high water pants and white socks did not.
  • George Wendt's real-life wife, Bernadette Birkett, repeatedly played the voice of Norm's wife, Vera, though she never appeared on screen.  However, she does appear dressed as Tinkerbell and dances with a costumed Cliff, early on in the series.  I saw Wendt and Birkett on stage together last year and couldn't help dwelling on them as I re-watched "Cheers," picturing Birkett every time Norm joked about his wife, Vera.

What am I going to do now that I've finished "Cheers"?  Watch 263 episodes of "Frasier," naturally.  I hear the blues a-callin'/Tossed salads and scrambled eggs.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Random Thoughts 10/31/14

  • My older two boys are going to a church lock-in tonight.  That seems so weird that they're old enough for that kind of thing.
  • Kansas sophomore, Conner Francamp, is transferring from KU to seek more playing time elsewhere.  It's a shame to lose him but this is part of the embarrassment of riches from which Kansas suffers.  The Wichita native will probably be a major contributor elsewhere.
  • My silence on my blog lately can once again be blamed on the "if-you-don't-have-anything-nice-to-say" principle.  Especially in regard to politics and current events.  It's all soooo frustrating.
  • Virgin Galactic's SpaceshipTwo exploded in flight today, killing one pilot and seriously injuring the other during a test flight.  This is the first of five spacecraft that is supposed to carry paying space-tourists in a year or two.
  • Don't forget to vote next Tuesday.
  • Today is Halloween and I think I am settling into a calm but cautious position with the whole thing.  I'm not too bothered by the abundant offensive aspects of the holiday, i.e. reveling in wickedness and devilry and such.  I know most of it is meaningless even if it offends my sensibilities and, though I'm not a fan, I don't let it get my blood pressure boiling anymore.  At the same time, I have no interest in participating in much of it either.  I'll hand out candy and try to be friendly, of course.  I'll even let my little kids dress up (I prefer "nice" costumes but I know my boys have always liked the scary stuff).  But I'm still a long way from endorsing or encouraging Halloween celebrations as they exist today.  As a father, I'm a hundred times more concerned about the sexually provocative costumes of young ladies than I am about psuedo-Satanic paraphernalia.  It seems that Halloween in recent years is prompting far more lust and gluttony than ritual sacrifices of the neighbor's cat.

SuperHero Movies

The list keeps getting longer of comic book movies that will be released in the next five years or so.  Having such a full schedule of superhero movies isn't new; in fact, it's been standard practice to release between 3-10 superhero movies per year, most years, since 1989.  What's new is the boldness of Marvel and DC to announce their movies as much as five years in advance.

Also new is the planned connections between films.  Marvel's "Cinematic Universe," or MCU, shares characters between movies, allowing each successive movie a to add to the story, even if it's not a direct sequel.  DC's movies, to be produced by Warner Bros, will also share a common universe, in which Batman, Superman, and other heroes will appear in each others movies or share movies equally.

Here's the list, as far as we know it: 

Marvel Cinematic Universe by Marvel Studios
Marvel Comics by other studios
DC Comics by Warner Bros

May 1 - Avengers: Age of Ultron
July 17 - Ant-Man
August 7 - Fantastic 4

Feb 12 - Deadpool
Mar 25 - Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice
May 6 - Captain America: Civil War
May 27 - X-Men: Apocalypse
June 3 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 (Mirage Comics)
July 1 - Tarzan (Dark Horse Comics)
Aug 5 - Suicide Squad 
Nov 4 - Doctor Strange
Nov 11 - The Sinister Six

Mar 3 - untitled Wolverine sequel
no date - Wonder Woman
May 6 - Guardians of the Galaxy 2
July 14 - untitled Fantastic 4 sequel
July 28 - Thor: Ragnarok
no date - Justice League, part 1
Nov 3 - Black Panther

no date - Amazing Spider-Man 3
no date - The Flash
May 4 - Avengers: Infinity War, part 1
July 6 - Captain Marvel
no date - Aquaman 
Nov 2 - Inhumans

no date - Shazam
May 3 - Avengers: Infinity War, part 2

no date - Justice League, part 2

no date - Cyborg
no date - Green Lantern (r)

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Random Thoughts 9/9/14

  • Baltimore running back Ray Rice had his football career ruined when the video of him beating his wife was released this week.  On the one hand, I understand why people are so upset because the video is violent and it removes any shadow of a doubt about what happened on that elevator.  On the other hand, I'm stunned by the sudden outrage.  It's like people thought it wasn't real because they couldn't see it.  But now they can, so now it is real, at least in regard to Ray Rice.  Never mind that this violence is done by other famous people (unrecorded by video) and the public generally looks the other direction.  I'm thinking of alleged (and sometimes convicted) wife-beaters like Mel Gibson, Mike Tyson, John Daly, Charlie Sheen, Axl Rose, Dennis Rodman, O.J. Simpson, John Lennon, Steve McQueen, Sean Penn, Nicolas Cage, Steven Seagal, Vince Neil, Jim Brown, Jose Canseco, Warren Sapp and many, many others.
  • Here's a pretty good article condemning Victoria Osteen's "gospel of happiness."
  • Apple has announced its new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, as well as it's upcoming Apple Watch.  Our phones are two years old, so we're technically due for an update.  I like the iPhone 6 but Shannon is leaning toward the phablet-sized 6 Plus.  I just need the thing to actually fit in my pocket.  The Apple Watch looks incredibly cool but I don't wear a watch now and I don't have $350 to learn to start wearing one again.
  • "Apple Pay" sounds like pig-Latin to me.
  • I won my first fantasy football game of the year.  That's not my usual m.o.
  • Listen to a classic sermon by Frank Peretti at Focus on the Family here (part 1) and here (part 2).

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Because Russia

Russia has probably always been a slightly bizarre place to live.  Now with security cameras and dashboard cameras everywhere (for insurance purposes, I'm told), we on the internet get to watch the bizarre happenings in Russia.

Here are two samples of things you might see in Russia.

Monday, September 01, 2014

50 Facts About Kansas City

Here's a great little list of trivia about my home, Kansas City.  My favorites include:

7. Possible names considered for the town that eventually grew into Kansas City were Rabbitville (imagine the Easter-themed promotions!) and Possum Trot.

25. Before the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson as the first African-American major leaguer, he was a star shortstop with the Negro Leagues Kansas City Monarchs.

28. Kansas City actually used to have kind of a theme going on with its pro sports teams, what with the (former) Monarchs, the Royals, the Chiefs and the (now Sacramento) Kings. Not quite sure how Sporting Kansas City fits into the program, but they're iconoclasts anyway since they play in KCK.

39. Kansas City has more barbecue restaurants per capita than any other city in the U.S. Or anywhere else, most likely, unless other planets are way more advanced than we thought.

It also doesn't hurt to read up on the summary of Kansas City history at the wikipedia page.  You might just learn something!

Advanced Toilet Roll Instructions

As the only one in seven that has this particular skill in my home, I feel obliged to share this instructional video.

Osteenification Run Rampant

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Random Thoughts 8/30/14

  • It's football season again!  Finally.  As I get older I seem to enjoy college basketball more and more but there's nothing quite like NFL football.  I get warm cozy feelings just from thinking about taking a nap with the game on in the background.
  • Fantasy Football is back too.  Our church fantasy league is in it's 13th year, not counting four or five years at Rushville before that.  This year I have a decently strong pair of QBs in Andrew Luck and Matt Ryan and for the first time ever, I have the #1 overall WR, Calvin Johnson.  I feel like I got good value at most of my picks but that may be because I kept drafting players that other people were avoiding (I'm looking at you Reggie Bush and Arian Foster). 
  • This is Brennan's first year playing fantasy football.  He comes in knowing almost nothing but he's a quick study.
  • I'm typing this in my new home office.  We moved Anneliese downstairs and renovated her room into an office space.  It's perfect for when I have meetings and counseling at home, when Shannon has cake customers, and as additional space for homeschooling.
  • I'm not normally one to share a video parody of a pop song… but this one is both cute and actually a bit educational at the same time.  And it showcases Kansas farmers.
  • And then I discovered why farming is one of the most dangerous occupations.  Because tractors.
  • The first openly gay football player drafted into the NFL got cut from his team today before the season even started.  Yawn.
  • What happened to 3D TV
  • A&E cancelled their best-rated scripted show, "Longmire."  Really?!  Hopefully another network picks up the show.
  • Oh, I guess Al Gore was wrong.  Seven years ago he said the summer polar ice cap would melt in seven years.  Not only has it not melted away, it has actually has grown two summers in row and this year it gained almost 2 million square kilometers (about the size of Alaska).  Oh, yeah, and polar bear numbers are higher now than 40 years ago.  Guess what, folks, the Earth will heat and the Earth will cool but we're not causing it (and neo-communism won't fix it).

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Film Review 2014, Part 1

As a longtime movie-buff and blogger, here's my latest installment of film reviews.

Please understand that I'm not endorsing all of these movies.  I'm not even giving a blanket endorsement of movie-watching in general.  But I watch movies with a view toward history, culture, and spiritual worldview, so perhaps I can steer you toward (or away) from certain films based on that point of view.

Part 1 of my 2014 list represents the films I watched from January through June, 2013.  My ranking system and special GOC (gratuitous objectionable content) warning is as follows:
5 stars - A great movie everyone should see.
4 stars - A great movie with some qualifications.
3 stars - An okay movie that will appeal to some audiences.
2 stars - Not very good to most audiences but with some redeeming qualities.
1 star - Not a movie worth seeing.

GOC - Warning: Gratuitous Objectionable Content -- Please fast forward or, better yet, watch an edited version of the film or skip it altogether.  Used especially in reference to nudity or abusive use of vulgar content. I sometimes deliberately watch films which are edited for content, so there may be GOC I don't know about.

5 stars
Captain Philips (2013) - This is the fascinating true story of the hijacking of a ship by modern day pirates.  The final scene, unlike anything I’ve seen before in a movie, of the “decompression” from the traumatic event is worth the price of admission.  This scene is what should lead to a best acting Oscar… but Tom Hanks already has two of them, so…

4.5 stars
• Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) - As good or better than its predecessor, Winter Soldier is about as good as the first Avengers movie.  What’s great is that the Captain America movies get to explore more political intrigue than the typical comic book action movie.
Ender’s Game (2013) - For a sci-fi book that was once considered un-filmable, this adaptation is nearly perfect.  The book is an absolute classic and the movie suffers by being condensed in several ways, but it still captures the essence of a isolated, gifted child with all of the pressure in the world on his shoulders.
Ip Man (2008) -  Very loosely based on a true story from the life of the humble martial arts master who trained Bruce Lee, Ip Man is a fantastic Kung Fu movie, set during the rarely-seen WW2 Japanese occupation of China. 

4 stars
Frozen (2013) - Another great Disney film with memorable characters, wit, and charm.  Other than the opening sequence, Frozen also had great music that absolutely captured my kids.  Shannon and Anneliese loved this movie.
Galaxy Quest (1999) - If you’re a fan of sci-fi, particularly Star Trek, this comedy is directed both at and for you.  It’s a take on the relationship between the actors and obsessed fans of sci-fi shows and (for some people) the blurring of the lines between reality and the fantasy is surpassingly profound for a comedy.
Hotel Transylvania (2012) - This animated "monster movie” turned out to be a surprisingly good father-daughter flick which is carried by a remarkable cast of talented comedians as the voice actors.

3.5 stars
Cloud Atlas (2012) - In part, this film demonstrates some genius film-making, combining six different stories, set in six different time periods, with the same six actors playing different roles each time.  However, this complexity works against the film because it’s so hard to track the plots and derive any kind of coherent theme from them.  I got stuck trying to figure out which character was reincarnated into whom and finally gave up in frustration, even after studying a chart on wikipedia.  Warning: brief but completely unnecessary and overly graphic GOC.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) - Far and away a better film than the first one, this story moves better and is better executed than the clumsy first attempt (both of the screenwriters and director were replaced).  Those who read the books tell me the second volume was a better story as well.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) - Ugh, how the legendary has become mundane.  There’s so much that’s not quite right here.  Aliens?!  How is geriatric Indy not breaking his hip?  A refrigerator?!  Really?!  That kid looks nothing like either of his parents!  This franchise needs a reboot not merely another chapter with this cast.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) - I’m a sucker for anything the Coen Brothers put together.  This film, however, is so depressing in its examination of depression (in the life of a 1960’s New York folk singer and the miserable people around him), that it becomes hard to enthusiastically recommend.  More than that, this movie is about ten times more profane than it really needed to be.  I wanted it to be O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000) part 2, but it left me too despondent to see any of those connections.  Extensive GOC
Thor: The Dark World (2013) - Another installment in the recent series which includes The Avengers.  Thor is a bit abstract and unfamiliar to most audiences but the film is well done with fantastic special effects.  If the plot was a bit easier to follow the movie would get a better rating.
Warm Bodies (2013)  - As a zombie film, it’s okay.  As an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, it’s incredibly clever and cute.  “R” is a zombie and Julie is a living person but their love will bring the two warring sides together.  How adorable.

3 stars
Arthur (2011) - If you look at this movie as an indictment of hedonism and alcohol and a promotion of monogamy, then this is really pretty good.  Other than that, it’s a very ho-hum remake of an older romantic-comedy, of which the best addition is Russell Brand’s comedic delivery.  Relatively minor GOC.
Croods (2013) - Cute movie.  A little odd… but I liked the father-daughter message near the end.
Dallas Buyer’s Club (2013) - This film was highly lauded, largely for it’s politically correct plot: 1980’s redneck learns to tolerate gays because he contracts AIDS.  It does have some very good performances but honestly the movie is not that profound, as countless other films have followed this same character arc with as much or more payoff in the end.  Seriously offputting GOC.
Europa Report (2013) - This sci-fi exploration movie follows an ill-fated crew on a mission where nothing goes right.  It gets kind of bleak, maybe a bit pointless, and the ending doesn’t quite hit the emotional payoff that the movie is obviously shooting for.
• The Grey (2011) - Bleak, nihilistic, but still suspenseful, this movie is kind of like Jaws (1975) or even Alien (1979), but with wolves.  I didn’t like the ending or the philosophy running throughout.  Also, Liam Neeson is everywhere!  GOC.
Wartime in Winter (2008) - Here’s an interesting World War 2 story you probably haven’t seen before.  The Dutch film follows a boy who desperately want to be part of the WW2 Resistance against the Nazis and finds his chance when he locates a downed British airman.  Drama ensues.
• White House Down (2013) - Die Hard in the White House.  Yes, it’s a little ridiculous, a little predictable, and a little corny here and there.  But this action film is also more fun and witty than most of its ilk, thanks largely to Jamie Foxx’s so-square-he's-cool portrayal of the president.
The World’s End (2013) - This is the third movie in the trilogy that includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.  Thus, it’s a really clever Edgar Wright dark comedy with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost battling some nefarious force while cursing and drinking.  This time it’s aliens.  I like the humor but I would be more of a fan of these films if not for the nearly constant profanity.  Obnoxiously constant GOC.

2.5 stars 
• All is Lost (2013) - This tale of a man on a sinking ship may not float your boat.  First off, it’s truly a one-man-show; Robert Redford is completely alone and no other human face is shown.  Second, there is virtually no spoken dialog.  You have few lines at the beginning and then 90 minutes of silence punctuated by one f-bomb.  Third, any non-sailor is going to have difficulty following this taciturn plot.  Yet I’ve read criticism from actual sailors on several nitpicky errors.  GOC
American Hustle (2013) - GOC.  Did I mention GOC?  No seriously, this is up to its eyeballs in GOC. This film was supposed to be the next The Sting (1973) or Ocean’s Eleven (1960), but failed to achieve that level of greatness.  It’s star studded and interesting but frankly not worth the investment of time.  I’m surprised this film garnered as much award attention as it did (10 Oscar nominations, no wins).  Oh, yeah: GOC. 
• Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013) - When I began watching I had the impression that this was a true story.  And for the first two-thirds of the movie, the story and acting were superb.  Then it went off the rails.  ClichĂ©.  Schmaltzy.  Predictable.  On-the-nose.  The two sons had more coincidences than Forrest Gump and a story that should have stayed in the 1960’s forced its way into 2008 and the Obama election, as if the audience couldn’t connect those dots already.  When I found out that virtually every point of this story was fabricated, it ruined what good did exist.
The Wolverine (2013) - The sixth turn of Hugh Jackman wearing the claws.  This one is relatively forgettable, especially due to an extraordinarily weak supporting cast.  The plot caters to fanboys steeped in Wolverine-lore but doesn’t offer much to newcomers.  Slightly more GOC than most comic book movies.

2 stars
Contraband (2012) - A foul-mouthed and and rather obvious plot about smuggling serves as the vehicle to get Mark Wahlberg on screen, playing roughly the same reformed-bad-boy-turned-good he plays in most movies.  More than most of Wahlberg’s movies however, this character seems to justify immoral behavior as long as it’s clever and he looks good doing it.  GOC
G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) - Goodness, these movies are awful.  But what do expect from a director who’s only other credits are the Justin Bieber movies and the Step Up franchise?  Does this G.I. Joe movie supply lots of mindless gunplay and explosions?  Yes, but at some point you need more than that even in popcorn fare.

1 star

Friday, August 08, 2014

Random Thoughts 8/8/14

  • How many super-hero movies does it take before the genre wears out its welcome?  We're gonna find out.  In the next six years, comic book publishers Marvel and DC have 33 films slated to be released.  This will include both well-known franchises like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the X-Men and Avengers, as well as lesser known or seldom seen characters like Ant-Man, Dr. Strange, Wonder Woman, Sinister Six, and more that I had to look up on Wikipedia.
  • As a nerd, I'm for more comic-book based movies.  But I can't help but think that the majority of people are just going to get worn out on it.  There's also a plethora of comic-based TV shows such as current shows "Agents of SHIELD" and "Arrow," and upcoming shows like "Gotham," "Agent Carter," "Daredevil," and "The Flash," among others.  Too much?
  • So former KU one-and-done player Andrew Wiggins finally got traded from Cleveland to Minnesota, as most people expected.  He'll now be in a better position to be the star but that comes with greater expectations and risk of failure.  It's a shame, too, Cleveland is fairly close to Wiggins' hometown, Toronto.
  • So I listened to a sermon today online.  The preacher repeatedly cursed from the pulpit, using the f-word and "a**h***" mostly to be edgy, express anger, or to get a cheap laugh.  So disappointing.  It's ironic though, his sermon hinged on using "judge a tree by its fruit" to condemn homophobia, while his own language was dripping in worldliness and profanity.  I think the sermon made a good attempt to express Christian love but it failed miserably at demonstrating Christian holiness.
  • I think what surprised me most, besides the cussing, was how the sermon wasn't completely wrong.  I knew it would be from a liberal theological bent, which would dismiss traditional Biblical interpretations with smugness and arrogance to find room to criticize the church and affirm societal norms.  And I figured the tone would be permissive and emotional, self-deprecating and apologetic.  But because of that, I assumed everything the preacher would say would be wrong.  It kept throwing me off balance that he said a lot of truth between the cuss words.  It's a good reminder that the most dangerous lies are the ones wrapped in truth.  You keep nodding your head in agreement and then little compromises that are almost correct are thrown in while your guard is down.  How dangerous.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Dumb Struck

When I played high school football in Winchester, Kansas, our team always marched on to the field to the heavy metal tune of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck."  Until I saw this video I didn't realize my old teammates remembered the song well enough to play the whole thing.  ;-)

Monday, August 04, 2014

The Most Amazing Engine Ever

This is the kind of stuff that nearly sent me into a career in aerospace engineering.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Top 8 Vacation Wins

We had a great family vacation this summer, filled with winning.  Here are the top eight "wins" from the 2014 Altic family vacation.

8. Chevy Suburban
You want to take 7 people on a 3,400 mile road trip?  I don't think we would have even tried it except that we had the Suburban, probably the nicest vehicle we've ever owned.  It's comfortable, it's reliable, it had a built-in video player to help the kids endure the "great" plains.  With the addition of our neighbor's cargo rack and a friend's cargo bag, it was the best vehicle ever.
7. Crazy Horse Monument
This was always an "optional" part of the trip after an overnight stay in Deadwood, SD.  It turns out, it was quite a bit better than I had been told.  The statue, even in its unfinished state, is tremendous to behold and the American Indian museum on site is excellent.  If you have any interest in Native American culture and artifacts, the museum itself is probably worth the drive.

6. Teenage Travelers
Long drives with little kids are difficult.  The under-10 crowd gets tired and grumpy and doesn't understand why we're not "there yet."  But teenagers (and pre-teens) are fun traveling companions.  Brennan (13) and Tanner (12) kept us entertained with their wit and were a constant help in a thousand little ways.  What a wonderful treat to rediscover how much you enjoy your kids.

5. Mount Rushmore Ice Cream
We were told by a friend the best ice cream in the country is served in the shadow of a bunch of statues somewhere in South Dakota.  That is correct.

4. Devil's Tower
Another "optional" part of our trip that we decided to indulge in.  This bizarre-looking mountain ranked surprisingly high on my kids' list of favorite activities.  It's a beautiful park with a delightful little walk on a paved path that circles the mountain, winding among the boulders and trees.  I think it helped that I had the older boys watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind before the trip, so they were looking for UFO's too.

3. Extended Family
There's a reason that a family of seven doesn't take a lot of vacations – after food and lodging and admission, it's just too expensive.  But this trip had a lot of help from extended family, for which we are so grateful.  We were able to stop and spend a night at my uncle's house in Westcliffe, Colorado.  Then three nights at my Aunt's house in Monte Vista (with the two older boys staying with another uncle in Alamosa).  Then a beautiful dinner with Shannon's sister and brother in Grand Junction.  The first half of the trip was filled with love and hospitality. 

2. On budgetWe were prepared to do this trip under our own power but thanks to the generous hospitality of our extended family, we were way ahead of budget.  That changed the second half the trip from the "bare bones budget version" to the "let's drive over here and see this and buy the kids a treat" version.  When we pulled back into our Kansas City driveway, we were $5 under budget without having to tap any "reserves" but we had the best possible version of the trip.

1. Yellowstone
I just didn't have a clear idea of what Yellowstone really was.  Geysers?  Sure.  Bison, elk, and moose?  Of course.  But the overwhelming beauty and diversity…  I didn't know there would be so many geysers.  I didn't know parts of the park were so mountainous.  I had no idea that the lake was so beautiful.  The whole place was mesmerizing.

Random Thoughts 7/21/14

  • I was stunned when I asked my Sunday School class, comprised of two dozen adults of various ages and backgrounds, and only one person (other than my wife and me) had seen the movie Citizen Kane. This is arguably the best movie ever made and has been readily available for 70 years.  It's #1 or #2 on virtually every list of great films.  I'm afraid to admit that I live in a world where people have watched nine seasons of "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" but have not seen Citizen Kane!
  • We took a family vacation last month that was both enjoyable and refreshing.  We drove 3400 miles through Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and South Dakota.  I'll blog more about that separately. 
  • We are new subscribers to Netflix and I'm so impressed.  There's certainly an ocean of stuff on there I have zero interest in but there's one particular item I've really enjoyed.  The compete 11-season series of "Cheers."  My mom and I used to watch "Cheers" reruns together every night when I was in high school.  It's one of the funniest shows ever on television and now I can watch them all again at my convenience.  
  • Along the same lines, the one thing I would add to Netflix:  "M*A*S*H"
  • My wife has lost her wallet twice in the last two weeks.  Both times she got it back and both times she didn't lose a single penny.  God is good and, even when she's unusually absent-minded, Shannon is blessed.
  • While I was gone on vacation, KU basketball star Andrew Wiggins was drafted first overall in the NBA draft and teammate Joel Imbiid was drafted third.  This is huge publicity for the program but things got even more interesting after that.  The Cleveland Cavaliers, who drafted Wiggins, then signed hometown hero and best player on the planet, LeBron James.  If Wiggins plays alongside James, that means he'll almost certainly be in the NBA playoffs every year from the beginning of his career.  I say "if," because there's a chance that Wiggins may be traded from Cleveland to Minnesota to help James build the team he wants.
  • One more Cleveland Cavaliers note:  Cleveland apparently contacted KU coach Bill Self about the coaching job there.  Now Cleveland may not have formally offered him the job, or Self may have turned it down, we don't know, but Self could have potentially gone to the NBA with his star player, Wiggins, and then ended up "coaching" LeBron James.  This would be most coaches' definition of a dream job.  If Self had the forethought to see those pieces coming together, was actually offered the job, and still turned it down… then that proves that Self is committed long-term to Kansas.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Camp Devotion - I Am Second

“He Must Become Greater"
by Jared Altic

Who was the greatest man who has ever lived (excluding Jesus)?  According to Jesus, it was John the Baptist.  Jesus said, “among those born of women, no one is greater than John," (Luke 7:28).

That’s an amazing endorsement.  And John pretty much deserved it.  He was a prophet and preacher like Elijah in a time when no one had seen a prophet from God in four hundred years.  John the Baptist was a gifted speaker and interesting personality that attracted and mesmerized Jews and Romans, traditionalists and liberals, soldiers and civilians.  Everyone went to hear him preach; he was kind of amazing.

But while John was doing his ministry out in the countryside, Jesus began his preaching also.  The crowds began to leave John and go over to Jesus.  Even some of John’s personal students left him to become disciples of Jesus.  Imagine a student today transferring to a rival school, mid-semester.  What would people think?!

But when asked about this, John answered, “The One who comes from Heaven is above all,” speaking of Jesus as greater than himself.  Then he said it directly, "He must become greater; I must become less”  (John 3:30).

Why would a great person step down from center stage?  We live in a world that says you simply must attract attention.  Be the fastest, the smartest, the most beautiful, the funniest.  Win, win, win.  Don’t be average because you’ll be forgotten.  You have to stand out and distinguish yourself; if you don’t promote you, no one else will.

But John understood what we seldom do.  Our value doesn’t come from being in first place.  Success doesn’t mean having the most money or the most trophies.  The real winners are the ones who trust in Jesus Christ.  John the Baptist said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them,” (John 3:36).

If I’m going to have real success or achieve anything meaningful, it begins with allowing myself to take a backseat to the One who truly deserves praise and honor.  Compared to him, I’m nothing.  Without him, I’m nothing.

Read: John 3:22-36; 1Thessalonians 4:11; Romans 12:3
Pray:  Ask God to show you what it means to be humble in today’s world.  Thank him for the work of Jesus Christ which saves us.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dreamliner Aerobatics

Camp Devotion - Forgiveness

“It’s Not Okay"
by Jared Altic

The stranger in front of me passes through the door and accidentally lets it close in my face.  They catch sight of me and apologize, “Oh, I’m sorry!"

"It’s okay,” I quickly reply.

And it is.  They didn’t mean to shut me out.  I wasn’t hurt by it in any way.  It was polite of them to apologize and it was polite of me to dismiss it easily.  It really was “okay.”  

Sometimes, however, we say “it’s okay” when it’s not okay at all.  Suppose someone apologizes for stealing from you or telling a lie about you.  You want to be polite and you respond with "it’s okay.”  But it’s wrong to steal or lie and their action may have really hurt you.  Their apology may be something you’ve wanted badly ever since the original wrongdoing occurred.  But when we dismiss their apology with “it’s okay” we are saying that their action was not inherently wrong and that no one was hurt by it.  We are assuring them of something we don’t actually feel.  It may be polite but it’s not true.

When someone does wrong to us and apologizes, we need to say “I forgive you.”  We can say it politely and mean it sincerely but sins have to be forgiven, not merely dismissed.  When we are the guilty party, God doesn’t just sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn’t happen.  God doesn’t look at our lies and lust, our greed and destructiveness and say, “It’s okay.”  No, he paid the price to fix the problem through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  When we repent and turn to God, feeling remorse for our wrongs, God forgives our sin.  He solves the problem; he doesn’t pretend that it didn’t exist in the first place.

Read:  Matthew 6:14; Acts 13:38; Luke 17:4; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13

Pray:  Help me to truly forgive those who have sinned against me.  Help me to recognize the seriousness and damage caused by sinful behavior.  Please forgive my sins as I’ve forgiven those who have sinned against me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Random Thoughts 7/16/14

  • Does anyone still play poker?  I haven't played in a couple years, but only because other things crowded in and took over.  We had a weekly poker night at my house, never gambling any money but keeping track of everyone's performance on a spreadsheet.  We had over a hundred different people come to our house to play from about 2006 to 2010-ish before the regular game died out.  I know that the No-Limit Hold-em game is past its heyday but I'd like to get that home game going again.
  • Speaking of poker, this year's World Series of Poker has concluded.  The professionals proved yet again that poker isn't a game of mere luck.  Phil Ivey won his 10th bracelet, Ted Forrest won his 6th, and 2009 champion Joe Cada won his second bracelet.  Phil Hellmuth, Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, Layne Flack, Jeff Lisandro, and Todd Brunson all made (multiple) final tables.
  • I meant to post the devotions I wrote for church camp this summer.  In fact, I thought that I already did.  I'll post both of them later today or maybe tomorrow.
  • The MacBook Pro which I use at work and home is easily the best computer I've ever owned.  I've had it for about three and half years and it's still going strong, no problems, no issues.  I still expect that someday, I'll transition from a laptop to a tablet, but that day hasn't come yet.
  • This is me not talking about politics.  If you don't have anything nice to say…

Friday, June 13, 2014

Random Thoughts 6/13/14

  • It's my mother's birthday tomorrow (the 14th).  Happy birthday, Mom!
  • We're planning a family trip out west later this summer through Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, and back.  I think I have a decent itinerary but I've never been to Yellowstone or Mount Rushmore before.  Any suggestions?
  • I'm helping at junior high Church camp this next week and leading Day Camp (1st-2nd grade) on Saturday, the 21st.
  • Right now comic book movies based on Marvel characters (X-men, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America, etc.) are popular, especially due to a decade-long string of movies which were all tied together by a single master-plan.  Marvel's primary competitor, DC comics, has classic franchises like Batman and Superman, but has failed to match the annual blockbusters that Marvel produces each year.  DC plans to change that.  DC's movie plans for the next few years has been released: 
    • May 2016 - BATMAN V. SUPERMAN 
    • July 2016 - SHAZAM
    • Xmas 2016 - SANDMAN
    • May 2017 - JUSTICE LEAGUE
    • July 2017 - WONDER WOMAN
    • MAY 2018 - MAN OF STEEL 2
  •  Everybody enjoys Batman and Superman but I've never really been a DC guy until recently.  Christopher Nolan's Batman movies were great and I really liked the last Superman (Man of Steel) movie.  Now we've started watching "Arrow" on Netflix, based on DC's archer-character Green Arrow.  And that show has been popular enough to have a spin-off television show for the Flash later this year.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Random Thoughts 6/5/14

  • Sorry for the lack of blogging.  I've been ridiculously busy; I think I had two full days off in the month of May.  Busy, busy.
  • KU added another recruit a couple of weeks ago, and follow this closely now…  he's a 6-8 guard from the Ukraine named Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who is only 16 years old (he'll turn 17 this summer before he gets to campus).  His name is pronounced Sviat-is-slov Meh-kai-luke, but everyone calls him "Svee."  He speaks English, can play all three positions on the perimeter and is probably the best recruit out of Europe this year.  Because of his age, he'll have to stay at KU at least two seasons before going pro.
  • Our 18th wedding anniversary was last Sunday.  This year will be Shannon's and my "tipping point," our 19th year.  We were 19 when we were married and this year will match our years married to years unmarried.  We've been together since 16, so we passed the tipping point of years together a few years back.
  • KU is now in possession of the original rules of basketball.  As such they are building an $18 million, 32,000 sq-ft temple student activity center to house the documents adjacent to Allen Field House.  You can see the architectural renderings here.
  • So we traded five terrorist leaders for one possible deserter/turn-coat.  Apparently we DO negotiate with terrorists.  I feel like our President has just needlessly endangered the lives of all westerners traveling abroad.  How is that not common sense?!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Age of Star Wars

As you may know, Disney now owns Star Wars and Star Wars, for the last 35 years, has been a money printing machine.  As such, Disney will now supply a steady stream of new Star Wars content for us to buy.  If you're a fan (or a Disney shareholder) this sounds like a great idea… perhaps.

First off, the powers-that-be have declared what "official" Star Wars actually is.  There have been Star Wars cartoons and books and comics and television specials and all manner of fan-fiction, much of it describing the universe that surrounds the original movie trilogy.  Now most of that has been tossed out the proverbial airlock to make room for the new stuff Disney will be producing.  Official Star Wars canon now includes ONLY the six movies (episodes I-VI) and the recent "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" animated television series, now available on Netflix.

Another Star Wars animated series will air on television this year, called "Star Wars: Rebels," which is set between episodes III and IV.   The next movie, Episode VII, is being filmed right now and will be released next summer.  Fans are torn on whether they really want to see the nearly geriatric Han, Luke, and Leia dodging blaster fire, but it can't possibly be worse than Jar Jar Binks, right?  Or can it?

So how much Star Wars are we going to get in the next six years?  Here is the rumored release schedule:

2014: "Rebels" (TV, animated)
2015: Episode VII
2016: Boba Fett movie
2017: Episode VIII
2018: Han Solo movie
2019: Episode IX
2020: Red Five (x-wing movie?)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Random Thoughts 5/10/14

  • The Chiefs surprised just about everybody and drafted the one position they really didn't need, defensive end/outside linebacker.  Auburn's Dee Ford will probably be a great player and it'll be nice to have depth at something as important as pass rusher, but all the experts (and most fans) were shocked the Chiefs didn't try to address any of their many areas of need.  That said, I agree with the assessment that they drafted Tamba Hali's replacement.
  • The Chiefs didn't have a second round pick and took a cornerback in the third round.  They have four more picks on Saturday, hopefully to use on offensive linemen and wide receivers.
  • Five players from the Big12 were drafted in the first three rounds, including two from West Virginia.  That's compared to twenty-three players from the SEC.  Missouri's Michael Sam was still undrafted going into day 3.
  • Comic book nerds rejoice!  ABC has renewed "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD" for a second season and has greenlit to series the Captain America spinoff "Marvel's Agent Carter" (which will be run by the people who wrote Joss Whedon's show "Dollhouse").  All of this is due to the success of Whedon's Avengers movie.  In the next year we'll be flooded with various comic book-based television shows, which may or may not be a great thing.
  • Other television show renewal or cancellation news…  Cancelled: "The Neighbors," "Community," "Enlisted," "Growing up Fisher," and a ton of other (mostly new) shows which centered around being a young hedonist in New York City.  Renewed: "Castle," "Arrow," "The Goldbergs," "Elementary," "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," "Grimm," "The Blacklist," and lots of other shows, many which centered around being a young hedonist in New York City.
  • For those of you scoring at home, the Kansas Jayhawks have lost two basketball players who will transfer from the school: Senior point guard Naadir Tharpe and Junior shooting guard Andrew White III.  This opens up two additional scholarships if Bill Self wants to pick up any transfers or late commitments.  With Tharpe's absence, the Jayhawks will have no seniors on the roster… which begs the question of what they'll do for senior night.
  • NBC has locked down the official broadcast rights to the Olympics through 2032.  Bob Costas, the Dick Clark of NBC sports, is under contract through about 2075.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Random Thoughts 5/1/14

  • We're in the planning stages for a family vacation at the end of June.  We are heading to Colorado and possibly other mountain states.  Any suggestions for a non-camping young family on a budget?
  • Happy Communism Day (May Day).  It's also the National Day of Prayer, which might be more helpful in addressing the world's problems.
  • KU announced today that PG Naadir Tharpe is going to transfer.  Considering the number of poor choices he's made on and off the court, often keeping him in Bill Self's doghouse, many KU fans are welcoming the news.  Normally, however, you don't celebrate the loss of a senior point guard who can shoot, regardless of his issues.
  • KU also missed out on the recruitment of 5-star high school center Myles Turner.  Yesterday Turner chose home-team Texas for the 2014-15 season.   It is looking likely that KU may still land the top-remaining point guard, Devonte Graham, who could possibly start next year in Tharpe's absence.  The 6'2" Graham is a top-40 player in this class.
  • This comedy video, "A Tour of Kansas City," is kind of funny.  It's also a bit crude at times, so be warned.  But it's hard not to appreciate a few inside jokes about your home town.
  • I've been enjoying a church history podcast called "Communio Sanctorum."  It's usually about 15-20 minutes and very well done.  I like anything that makes history more interesting and easy to listen to.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Leonard Cohen's 1984 song "Hallelujah" is both beautiful and disappointing.   For years Christians have been drawn to it for both its beautiful melody and its refrain of "hallelujah."  But, like a lot of people, most Christians haven't listened to the rest of the lyrics or considered what the original author meant by them.  Long story short: just because someone says "hallelujah" doesn't mean they're praising God.

Leonard Cohen is a Jew who converted to Buddhism is the 70's.  While many different interpretations exist for this song (in part because Cohen drafted as many as 80 verses and sung multiple versions of the song over the years), all of them revolve around "different hallelujahs" other than the one that praises the Lord.  Cohen writes about hallelujahs of defiance, love, apathy, passion, and loneliness.  Some verses seem redemptive while most seem to express despair and emptiness.  Remember, this is after he left Judaism and turned to Buddhism, which believes in no personal God.  Cohen was ordained as a Buddhist monk in the 90's.

It's funny how some Christians see what they want to see, going to great lengths to defend Cohen's lyrics as if they were written by Bill Gaither or Michael W. Smith.  I like the melody and find the lyrics fascinating as a glimpse into someone's mind as they are having doubts and losing their faith.  But I cannot personally accept the "other" hallelujahs.  I can't say for certain who is Cohen's "Lord of Song" or what he really means when he says hallelujah, but hallelujah means "Praise Yahweh."  Anything else is a corruption of the word.

Thankfully, the Christian band Cloverton redeems the melody with much better lyrics in this Christmas version released last season.

[Thanks, Alanna]

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Random Thoughts 4/10/14

  • Jayhawk Draft Watch Day 18:  Joel Embiid, as most expected, declared for the NBA Draft yesterday.  Now both Embiid and Andrew Wiggins are going to the NBA, hoping to be drafted in the top-5 on June 26th.  Wayne Selden Jr. has already announced he is staying for a second year and no other underclassmen are expected to leave early.
  • 6-11 center Myles Turner was the only unsigned player at the McDonald's All American game.  The rumors were that he was waiting to see what Joel Imbiid was doing before he made his decision, implying that if Imbiid left, Turner would go to Lawrence.  That's yet to be seen, but Turner's decision is expected next week.
  • Danny Manning, 47, is now the new head coach at Wake Forest, after two years and a tournament appearance at Tulsa.  Jeff Boschee, 34, is now the head coach at Missouri Southern in Joplin.  He's been with the program for four years as an assistant. 
  • So David Letterman is out and Stephen Colbert is in as the next host of CBS's "The Late Show."  Hmmm…  Colbert's character on "The Colbert Report" is really funny but he's playing a caricature of a pompous conservative.  The unfiltered, liberal Stephen Colbert might not go over as well.  That said, whatever audience Letterman still has is probably conditioned to accept unfiltered liberalism.
  • After 14 years with DirecTV, we've switched over to Google Fiber's TV package.  For a guy like me who hates change, it was like pulling teeth.  A different remote, a different on-screen guide, different channel numbers!  Argh!!!  But in the end, DirecTV was too expensive by itself.  Google Fiber has been the best internet provider we've ever had and bundling the television package with it was going to save $30-50 per month, depending on what the fees and taxes end up being.  Throw in the free Nexus tablet and a few other perks and it began to make too much sense.

Sweet 16 (2014) Final

Oops.  I almost forgot to post this.

Our collective inability to pick the upsets in this year's NCAA tourney resulted in low scores and a rare tie for first place.  Jared and Kristi stalled out at 304 points, but congratulations nonetheless.

Probably the most notable pick was Dustin taking Tennessee, a play-in team, and putting them in the correct range, 5th-9th.  Another solid pick was Jared taking Kentucky over Wichita State but placing them 16th almost completely negated the potential 80 points this pick could have garnered.  In the end, it was our complete blind spot for UConn that hurt the most, leaving almost 100 points unclaimed by anyone.

Honestly with a UConn and Kentucky final, none of us had a chance.  If, however, we had Biff's Sports Almanac we would have come up with this lineup:

Instead, we did this:

Monday, April 07, 2014

A Letter to an Unbelieving Loved One

This is the text of the letter I read on Sunday morning, 4/6/14.  I wrote it but I'd like to give credit to Dallas Willard and Ravi Zacharias, whose writings heavily influenced the tone, structure, and my choice of illustrations and scriptures.  Please forgive the grammar also, it was written to be read aloud to an audience thus some "normal" grammar went out the window.

Finally, this wasn't targeted at one specific individual.  Since childhood, I've known and loved a number of intellectual non-believers who would not or could not see anything good in Jesus Christ.  I pray their hearts will change so that their sharp minds can receive God's truth.



Dear Loved One,

I realize that you don’t want to talk to me and DON’T want to talk about GOD.  You seem to get very upset whenever I try to talk to you.  But because I love you, I want you to know the things that I think are crucially important.  If I thought these things were unimportant or just a matter of opinion, I wouldn’t bother you with them.  If I didn’t care about you personally, I wouldn’t bother to waste my time.

But I pray… and I believe… that someday your heart will be turned to read this letter and in it you will find new answers to your questions and perhaps a rebuke of the convenient teachings that have been in your mind all these years.

First of all, you’ve been so quick to decry the supposed evils of Christianity — wars and bigotry and slavery and such.  Specifically, you claimed that slavery was a Christian evil, that the Bible never condemns it.  But you knew that was not true.  From the one of the oldest books of the Bible (Job 31), we read:

“If I have denied justice to any of my servants,
     whether male or female,
when they had a grievance against me,
     what will I do when God confronts me?
What will I answer when called to account?
     Did not he who made me in the womb make them?
     Did not the same one form us both within our mothers? (Job 31:13-15)

From this we go to some of the last books of the Bible, 1Timothy, which lists slave-traders among other heinous sinners such as murderers, liars, and perverts, and Philemon, which argues with a slave-owner to receive back his slave “as a brother” and not punish him.  Combine this testimony with the historical fact that the abolition of slavery in England and the United States was led by Christians, based on the Christian principle that all people are equal before God, and inspired by the Exodus-story of God delivering the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

No, slavery was not caused by Christianity or even endorsed by Christianity, rather Christianity set the slaves free.

Wars?  Has religion been the cause of most war in human history?  Contrary to popular belief most wars were not fought for religious reasons.  Land, power, money, and ego have been and always will be the primary causes of most wars.  A survey of over 1,700 wars in human history shows that less than 7% of wars have religious causes and half of those were Muslim wars.  Remove the Muslims and the rest of the world’s religions account for only a little over 3% of the wars in history.

Compare this to the death toll of atheism and secular governments in just the last 100 years.  Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, Chiang Kai-shek, Vladimir Lenin, Hideki Tojo, Pol Pot, and the list of non-religious dictators goes on and on… they shot, starved, gassed, hung, bombed, and burned well over 100 million people in just the 20th Century.  Some claim the number is closer to 300 million people.

There should be a moral outcry, but not against Christianity.  Instead, it is the absence or suppression of Christianity which makes the world a dangerous place, where life is cheap and undervalued.  Without God, man’s evil heart leads to all kinds of evil actions.  Jesus said,

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”  (Mark 7:21-23)

Still you might object and say that God does NOT exist.  So even if Christians are “good” people, that good behavior is tainted by the delusion in which they are trapped.  And it is not “good” to be fooled by a lie.  Christians, you have said, need to admit the truth, that God is not real.  He’s a figment of their twisted imagination, an emotional crutch from which the enlightened can be freed.

To begin with, you are more intelligent than that.  How can anyone say with certainty that something doesn’t exist?  You would have to know what you can’t possibly know.  As one philosopher asked, do green crows exist?  Showing me one, five, ten, or a thousand black crows doesn’t prove that a green one might not exist somewhere.  Only if you can gather all the crows that exist and have ever existed in one place and time and check them all can you be certain, and that assumes there is not another planet in a another galaxy that might have green crows.

To say that there is no God, is to presume that you can know that in every corner of the universe, at all points in time, there is not and has not ever been a God somewhere.  To have that kind of unlimited knowledge, ironically, would make you God and your own omniscient existence would refute your claim.

Psalm 14 said it best, “The fool says in his heart there is no God."

So you can’t really be an atheist and claim there is NO God.  Rather you could claim to be an agnostic and not know if God exists or not.  But I believe you want to know.  And that you CAN know.

First, look at the material things around you.  Which of them caused themselves to come into existence?  The chair, the couch, the television, the carpet — they all came from a factory or a craftsman.  Each had component parts which were made or grown and then assembled. Those parts came from raw materials which were deposited or grown somewhere by some process, perhaps repeated ad infinitum

In fact everything in the physical world came from something else.  And no matter how you slice it up, you never find the ultimate origin in the thing itself.  It’s the law of cause and effect, and every effect has it’s cause going back and back and back to the beginning.

But then what?  How did the beginning begin?  Is that even answerable?  If there is an answer, it is that the great "uncaused first cause" could not have been a physical part of this universe.  It had to be “other” …because every physical thing in this universe is caused by something outside of itself.   Whatever came first had it’s cause within itself and thus is completely unlike anything here.

Is that God yet?  Not yet.

Second, take another look around you.  In this world you might spy beauty in a sunset, a person, or a work of art and then argue that the beautiful object occurred naturally.  You can even attempt that difficult argument that not just subjective beauty but also objective order emerges naturally from the chaos.  But what about intelligibility, when something makes sense and communicates information?  You can try to convince me that a wooden chair naturally grew into that chair-like shape, that’s its beauty is only subjective and it’s function is only coincidental.  But the sticker underneath that says “Made in USA” is impossible to refute.  You could never convince the most ardent skeptic that the letters in that simple three-word sentence came together naturally and don’t actually mean anything.  The sticker is very clearly communicated information.

You have believed that the shape of our bodies evolved over millions of years from simpler forms to more complex forms.  But even in the simplest form, how can you explain the lengthy and complex information encoded in a single strand of DNA?  Where did this complex, productive, and intelligent information come from?  Like the sticker under the chair, though a million times more sophisticated, it is the label that the Maker proudly affixed to His work.  The code had an encoder.  The design had a designer.  The art had an artist.  In contrast to gibberish, intelligibility, in any message, assumes an intelligence.

So now we have non-physical, "uncaused first cause" which is intelligent.  Is it the God of the Bible yet?  Almost.

Finally, look at history and see if anyone or anything matches this concept we’re building as God.  Different religious leaders and philosophers have appeared in history but Buddha, Confucius, Mohammad, and others don’t even claim to be this God we’re looking for.  Others, like Zeus, Thor, or Brahma don’t show any sign they ever occurred in real history.

But what about Jesus Christ?  Jesus actually existed, attested to both in the Bible and by historians of that period.  There’s no real doubt that he lived.  What makes him unique and controversial is that he claimed to be God, the one God of creation who pre-dated the universe.

John 10:30  “The Father and I are one.”
John 14:9  “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
John 8:58  “Before Abraham was born, I AM”

In case that last one was vague, when he said it the people who heard him understood that he was claiming to be God and picked up stones to execute him for blasphemy.  Jesus made this claim to divinity and made it exclusively.  In John 14:6 he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the father except through me.”

Ultimately, he was killed for these claims but he verified them through the uncanny fulfillment of prophecies, which predated him by centuries, and by miracles, witnessed by both friends and enemies and noted both in the Bible and in secular history.  Most notably, after he was executed his tomb was found empty and crowds of witnesses saw him, talked with him, ate with him, and verified that he was alive again.

No one else in History is like this.

Now we have a non-physical, "uncaused first cause" with intelligence who entered into real history in the man Jesus Christ and revealed his will to humanity.

This much is reasonably verifiable for anyone who wants to know it.  But it’s the issue of what he said regarding humanity that might be offensive.  He said that we have all sinned, that we must all turn away from that sin, and that, if we follow him, his sacrifice on the cross will count as payment for our wrongdoing.

Now there’s the rub.  Our own guilty consciences verify Jesus Christ.  In the back of our minds we know he is real and it makes us angry.  People don’t get angry over the Tooth Fairy or Easter Bunny.  Jesus makes people angry.

I know that you have not wanted to hear that there is a judge who knows your darkest secrets.  Of course, your awareness of Him doesn’t affect his existence any more than your knowledge of the planet Neptune places it in its orbit or causes it to disappear.  But he knows you and knows your destructive behavior and the thought of His knowing terrifies you.  It’s the feeling of being watched; a light shined into dark places which you’d rather keep obscured.  It feels like an invasion to you and you resent it.  I understand. 

But that does not stop him from knowing you.  And His knowing you eats at the edges of your conscience, hardening your heart and frustrating your thinking.  The worse you act toward yourself and others, in other words the worse you sin, the worse you feel, the more you want to escape into fantasies and self-indulgence.  You long to return to the freer days of childhood and not be responsible anymore.

But it’s not the weight of responsibility you are actually running from, it’s guilt.  At times you hate yourself for what you’ve done and wish you could forget.  At times you hate everyone else.  And then you feel it again.  God is watching you.  And you hate Him for it!  He’s always there to hate, on the lips of do-gooders and busy-bodies.  Obnoxious fools invoke His name for their every petty need but to you He is just watching you, judging you.  Making you feel bad.

But you don’t feel bad because Christianity has done evil to you and caused you to hate it.  No, you have been made uncomfortable by goodness.  The light of God's goodness makes your selfish behavior look ugly and shameful.  Before you thought little of it, but now you may feel guilty.

My prayer is that you would understand our lives without God in this light.  Because if you knew that your own ways led nowhere good you would see that God is not the enemy but is offering you a peace treaty through Jesus Christ.  By exposing our shameful deeds, he actually demonstrates his LOVE for us.

He wants us to be reconciled to him.  No matter what we’ve done.  No matter what we’ve said.  The creator of this universe, who wrote your DNA, who revealed himself in Jesus Christ has paid the penalty for you to be purchased back from the other side.  He loves you.  He can forgive everything.  It’s available to you now for free if you would only believe and surrender to Him.

I pray that you do.

In sincere love,

Jared Altic

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Sweet 16 (2014) Round 5

Well, I'm pretty sure this has never happened to us before.  We're down to the championship game and virtually everybody is out.  Nobody had UConn at all.  Only Jared had Kentucky but as his 16th team, a sign that he didn't trust them to actually beat Wichita State.  7-seed UConn and 8-seed Kentucky are the worst championship game pairing in NCAA history.  Typically, a Sweet Sixteen list wouldn't include anything below a 4-seed.

We are obviously nowhere near the 461 points we could potentially have at this point.  A perfect score after six rounds would be 477.

Most years, everyone still has at least one team, and often both teams, still alive going into the final game.  This isn't most years.

Now UConn and Kentucky will square off and Jared and Kristi are tied 304 to 304.  If Kentucky and their slime-ball head coach wins *spit*, Jared will win 305-304.  If UConn wins *eye-roll*, Jared and Kristi stay tied.

What on earth happened, Kansas?!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Random Thoughts 4/3/14

  • So the television show "How I Met Your Mother" ended on Monday.  Personally, it was a huge letdown.  Barney's reprobate-redemption was almost on the mark but fell short in my opinion.  And the whole final twist about the mother and kids' interaction made the entire show's concept seem cheapened to me.  Some of the disconnect may be attributed to the show staying around too long past its peak.
  • Speaking of shows, this is the time of year television shows get cancelled.  I was going to try watching "Enlisted" or Michael J. Fox's new show but I just heard they both got cancelled.   Shannon and I watch the very silly "Neighbors" (think "Third Rock From the Sun" but with kids) but it's one of the shows that's on the bubble and may not survive to see a renewal.  I haven't seen "The Crazy Ones" but I've heard it's dangling by a thread as well.  The same goes for "Revolution".
  • Nothing apparently can kill "Community," the share that dares you to cancel it.  Obviously, show-runner Dan Harmon knows where the bodies are buried.
  • Do you remember when "American Idol" was a thing?
  • Some shows have had more success and I might consider binge-watching to catch up, if the show is worth it.  I haven't ever tried "Mike & Molly", "The Goldbergs", or "Sleepy Hollow"; does anybody have any recommendations?
  • Here's a fascinating but brief survey of British accents.  The speaker is a dialect coach and it's impressive how easily he slips out of one accent and into another.
  • The McDonald's All-American game was last night.  Kansas had a player on each team, power forward Cliff Alexander and shooting guard/small forward Kelly Oubre.  Both played fairly well and had their share of highlights though it's hard to say an all-star game like this really shows you anything.  Hopefully both players will make significant contributions next season.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Random Thoughts 4/1/14

  • No April Fool's Day pranks here today.  It's almost impossible to get on the internet and read anything on April 1, with everybody tripping over themselves to show how clever they are.  Snore.  I'm not believing anything I read or hear until April 2.
  • KU Draft Watch Day 9:  Andrew Wiggins had a press conference yesterday and declared his well-known intentions to go pro after just one year.  Supposedly Joel Embiid is still undecided.  Wayne Selden, Jr. has announced he is staying for another year.  Is it just me, but I haven't heard anything about second-year forward Perry Ellis leaving early.  It seems like he'd have at least a little interest from NBA scouts.  Perhaps not.
  • The best review of that Noah movie I've read yet… of course, it's from Matt Walsh's blog.
  • Naadir Tharpe, you're on thin ice already, buddy.
  • 5-star future Jayhawk power forward Cliff Alexander claims he's considering staying at KU for two years instead of just one.  This in an article with an April 1 dateline.  We'll see.
  • President Obama claims 7 million people signed up for Obamacare, just in time to meet that 7 million person goal.  Again, on April 1st he says this. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sweet 16 (2014) Round 4

Things have swung Kristi's way.  If either Florida or Wisconsin win another game, Kristi will take the contest.  If both Florida and Wisconsin lose, Jared will gain a point with each of Kentucky's wins.  One Kentucky win will tie him with Kristi.  A Kentucky championship (blech!) will put him up one point for the win.

Again, nobody had UConn.  Oops.

Jared is the only contestant to pick Kentucky at all, and thus is the only one with three remaining teams.

Mike will gain three points with each Wisconsin win, but is too far back to catch Kristi.  He was the only one to have his top two picks make the Final Four.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sweet 16 (2014) Round 3

And… the wheels are coming off.  At this point, after the Sweet Sixteen round, we are about one hundred points off the mark (a perfect score would be 372 at this point).  The main culprits are Duke, Kansas, and Wichita State, which we put way too much hope in this year.

Nobody had Dayton and UConn getting to the Sweet Sixteen, let alone the Elite Eight.

In theory your top-8 teams should still be active.  All six contestants have between four and six teams still alive, scattered across their lists.  Jared is the only one with six teams remaining but Bryan has his top four still alive, which no one else can say.

Jared has surged into the lead with 281 points and five of his top-8 teams still active.  But Kristi is only five points down and gains four points with every Florida win and two points with every Wisconsin win.  So a Florida-Wisconsin-UConn-Kentucky Final Four would be ideal for Mrs. Champ.  An all-Michigan final would hand it all Jared.

Here's the spreadsheet with way too much red all over it:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Random Thoughts 3/27/14

  • I guess that college basketball continues tonight.  But without the Jayhawks, does it really?
  • My brother, Dustin, made a brief appearance in a recent KCK Chamber video.  Catch him at the 12-second mark.
  • Dick Morris has a short video here explaining the problems with Common Core curriculum in schools, with mention of Indiana's recent rejection of it.
  • KU Draft Watch: Day 4.  Wayne Selden has announced two days ago that he is staying at KU for another year.  This in spite of the fact that Selden was seen as a potential first round draft pick this year.  It was reported that Joel Embiid had decided to declare for the draft.  That has since been corrected, as the official position now is that he has not yet made a decision.  Andrew Wiggins hasn't made an announcement yet but he was never expected to come back for a second year.
  • I had someone tell me today that "each person needs to find the religion that's right for them."  Um… no.  If all religions were equally valid, then fine, pick whichever one suits you.  But world religions can't even agree on what's "real" or "good" so if some are true and some are false then you have a problem because it might suit you to believe one that has lied to you.  That lie might be, at best, useless and, at worst, destructive.  Now Jesus says that he is exclusively the only way to get to God (John 14:6).  So unless Jesus is lying, which makes his religion a bad one, then Jesus' way is the only way.  Other ways are false ways.  If you say other religions might be good for some people then you are saying that Jesus is a liar (and by extension that those who follow Jesus are bad people).  Jesus does NOT allow for other religions to also be true.  So, is Jesus a liar and is Christianity a bad religion?  I challenge you to see who Jesus is by reading the book of John in the Bible.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Sweet 16 (2014) Round 2

We are obviously not very good at this.  All we had to do was pick sixteen teams and the best any of could do was pick ten; most of us could hardly pick half of the actual Sweet 16.

Dustin and Kristi are leading the way with a modest 222 points each.  That said, Kristi has a distinct advantage with her top-5 teams still active.  Mike also has his top-5 active and can catch up to Kristi with Wisconsin and Virginia success.

Dustin's secret weapon, Tennessee, is still going strong.  Unfortunately Dustin is the only one who has lost all three of his top-3.

Here's the spreadsheet:

Random Thoughts 3/24/13

  • Well, my wife has me back until August/September (when football starts again).  Five months.  That's all she gets.
  • Roy Williams got old-looking!  For the record he's only 63.
  • Wichita State could have won that game but they didn't.  That said, no matter how great they are, they were disadvantaged by not having played against top competition all year.  The Shockers prove that a team like this really can compete and even win it all potentially but I'm convinced that they would be better off to have lost a few games but gained the experience by playing a few more Kentucky-like teams during the season.
  • It's too bad about Kansas falling apart at the end of the season.  It's worse that these young one-and-done players are going to leave the college game after less than six months.  
  • I obviously know less about brackets than I do fantasy football.  But…
  • Jimmy Fallon makes me smile:

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sweet 16 (2014) Round 1

Yes, yes, I know.  The NCAA is calling this "round 2."  Whatever.  "Round 1" was play-in games.  This was the real round 1.

We got off to a great start, with most of our scores in the 120's (out of 136).  The key exception was Dustin, who had a 140.  How did he get 140 points?  He picked Tennessee, which already won a play-in game.  It's risky but, so far, the strategy has paid off in giving him an extra nine points on top of a near-perfect list of sixteen.  It's funny, too: I saw his lineup and thought it was more of a from-the-gut, sentimental list.  Shows what I know.

Duke was the biggest goat so far.  The idea is that every team on your list will win at least two games.  To have a team like Duke go out win-less is a tough blow.  Five of us had Duke and the Blue Devils were ranked as high as fourth (13 points per) on Matt's list.

Here are the numbers:

Note:  We've been counting play-in games since the NCAA started scheduling higher seeds in those games.  This year included a pair of 11's and a pair of 12's, as well as four 16's. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sweet 16 (2014) Prelim

We have six participants in this year's contest.

It took me awhile to put the spreadsheet together, but here you go.  The top team will get 16 points with each win, the second team will get 15 points, and so on…

Please double-check to make sure your teams are listed correctly.

I'll update after each round (sometimes the next morning).

Good luck!

[click to embiggen]

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sweet 16 Contest (2014)

The NCAA tourney starts Thursday (play-in games won't count for this contest) and we're all looking at our brackets trying to determine how much we actually trust Wichita State and whether Kansas might find a path to go all the way.

But in addition to filling out a bracket, try my "Sweet 16" contest we've been playing the last few years. Instead of predicting almost 70 games, we pick the best sixteen teams in the tournament and rank them best to worst. The best team will get 16 points for each win, the second team will get 15 points and so on until you get to the 16th team which gets one point per win. If you put them in the correct order, your maximum score would be 477 points.

Last year was a rough year for most of us, but Chris Coker jumped out to an early lead and dominated us through the end.

If you want to play along, just post your list of of sixteen, in order, in the comments section (or email me) and I'll keep a running tally as we go along. The cutoff is Thursday morning.

Oh, and what does the winner get? As always, the satisfaction of a job well done.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Happy 8th Birthday, Graham

My sweet little boy, Graham, turned 8 today.  Graham is our family comedian.  He competes with his older brothers by being funnier and goofier than anyone else and, frankly, he probably has the best natural wit of anyone in the family.  Graham, I absolutely love you.  You're the delight of our family.

Here's my blog post (and first picture) of Graham when he was born.

Here are a few more of Graham and his easy smile.

Friday, March 14, 2014

It May Seem Right…

Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."

I've read this a hundred times before but today it really saddened me.  There are people I know who think they are wise but they refuse to live by God's standards.  They may be very intelligent but they refuse to know God's truth.   Their life choices lead to pain and destruction but they blame others or bad luck.  Evidence of God surrounds them but they just won't see it.

To those dear people:

If you think you are an accident of evolution and your existence serves no real purpose, then have believed a lie about your value.

If you feel a sense of outrage, injustice, or right or wrong, then you cannot deny a moral standard may exist that transcends you.

If a standard exist and you compare yourself to it, then you know that no human being is perfect.

If it's possible that a God exists who really loves you, then you know nothing would be more important than fixing the distance between you and a perfect God.

If you've ever really looked at Jesus, then you know that reconciling us to God was his primary purpose.

If you don't make peace with God through Jesus Christ, then you'll never have peace at all.