Saturday, December 11, 2010

Book Review: Under the Overpass

As I type this review, my kids are watching Diego on a flatscreen TV, I have a cup of coffee by my side, I am sitting in my recliner in my climate-controlled house, and my belly is quite full. The reality is that every day, thousands of people in every major city would give anything for these luxuries. Right now, they are outside, trying to find shelter from the cold rain that is pelting my windows. This is the plight of the homeless and the genesis for the writing of Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski.

Mike was a student at a Christian college when a sermon at church challenged him to examine whether or not he was the Christian he said he was. As he mulled over what that meant for him, he wondered how he would react if he put his comfortable life aside to live "alongside of those who live with nothing every day." That spurred an idea in his spirit to become voluntarily homeless to experience what they experience every day, and hopefully increase his heart for the homeless. After discussing his plan with trusted people and loved ones, and after finding a traveling companion, he set off on his five-month journey.

The book follows his - for lack of a better word - adventure through six major American cities: Denver, Washington DC, Portland, San Francisco, Phoenix, and San Diego. In each of the cities, the reader is exposed to the real life struggles that every homeless individual experiences: Where will I eat? Where will I sleep? Am I safe here? How can I get warm? How can I get cooled off? Where will I go to the bathroom? and so on. I have been on numerous mission trips and have worked with lots of homeless individuals, but this book painted their struggles in a completely new light. I have a new appreciation for the hardships with which they daily have to deal. But perhaps the biggest struggle that stood out to me in this book was the relational one. You read first-hand how the homeless are prejudiced against, talked down to, yelled at, and treated like dirt, and this sometimes by 'Christian' people. In a Q&A with the author at the end of the book, Mike writes, "By far the hardest aspect was the lack of strong relationships." Comments like these will help me be more conscious of how I treat the homeless when I encounter them. They are, after all, people created in God's image, just like any other.

I really enjoyed this book, if you can enjoy reading about someone's struggles on the street. It opened my eyes even further to the struggles of the homeless, and I had a hard time putting it down each night. But perhaps the best review I can give it is that I am different as a result of its reading.

This book was originally written five years ago, and this is an updated an expanded edition, including an epilogue to the updated edition and a Q&A with the author. It was cool to read how the experience had changed the course to the author's life, as he is now living in community with others who are homeless and doing life with them. The publisher, Waterbrook Multnomah, now offers an Under the Overpass action plan for Christmas, which you can access here. If you would like to read the first chapter (which I would highly recommend!), you can do so here. Once you do so, chances are good that you will end up buying the book, so be prepared...

Monday, December 06, 2010

Flash Mob Beauty

These are probably my two favorite flash mob videos. If you are unfamiliar with what a flash mob is, first of all, where have you been? These things have been quite popular over the last several years. Second, according to the Urban Dictionary, a flash mob is A group of people who are organised via various mass communications to come together at a specified place and time, perform some (typically whimsical) action, then disperse.

The reason why I love these two is because they amount to random acts of beauty. God is all about beauty. Look at the world He created. Look at a newborn baby. Look at a sunset. Look at images from the Hubble telescope. You can't do any of those and argue that God doesn't like beauty. And when I see things like this, I see God's creative work in the world to make it a more beautiful place, and that's never a bad thing. How cool would it have been to be in this food court / department store and randomly experience the beauty of one of the greatest works of art ever? I don't care how bad of a day you may have been having; it would have been better after this. That's what beauty does: it inspires, uplifts, and encourages.

The question for today i: What are you - and I - doing to bring beauty into the world and the lives of others?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

LeBron's Return

I proudly wore my Cleveland Cavaliers t-shirt on Thursday in preparation for LeBron James' return to Cleveland after making The Decision on July 8th, when he jetted Cleveland and took his talents to South Beach. I didn't think the Cavs would actually win the game, but was hopeful that they would have a good showing, which they didn't. When I saw the Cavs line-up and some of the players who came off of the bench, my thought was, "Who are these guys?" Many of them weren't even on the team last year. An it wasn't a matter of Cleveland picking up some high-price free agents; these were the only scrubs they could pick up after James made his decision so late in the game. It was not a lot of fun to watch.

I had at least one friend ask me, and a few others menton on Facebook, that they didn't understand what the big deal was. These people are clearly not sports fans, especially ones of Cleveland sports teams. When you become a sports fan - especially when you are raised as one, like I was - part of your civic pride, part of your identity is wrapped up in those teams. Those are not just sports teams; they are YOUR teams. So when someone pulls something like LeBron did, it's not simply a business decision, as he claims. It's personal.

And the bigger problem with LeBron's leaving is that he did it to Cleveland. I have been a Cleveland sports fan for 41 years now, and am still waiting for one of my team to win a championship. The last major sports team to win anything was the Browns in 1964 - that's pre-Super Bowl, for you uninitiated. So when LeBron came along, Cleveland felt like, "Finally! Someone is going to do it!" Especially since he said that his goal was to bring a championship to Cleveland, and wasn't going to leave until he did it. The way he did it was pretty unclassy, too, on national TV. If you're going to go, OK; don't rub it in our faces. And it was an even bigger deal after all we had gone through:

That's a lot of heartbreak for one city to have to deal with. Time and time again, our city had been beaten up in the sports world, and just when it looked like we were pulling ourselves up off of the canvas to fight again, we get blindsided. So was it just a guy choosing to go to another team as a free agent? Yes. But it is so much more to those of us who love Cleveland sports. It's one more chapter of frustration in the book of Cleveland sports. It will not be quickly forgotten, if ever. Art Modell can't really come back to Cleveland after having moved the Browns in the early 90's because he is not welcome; James will likely get the same kind of treatment for the rest of his career...

For a really good read about Cleveland and the effect The Decision has had, check out this article by Wright Thompson at

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Why I am thankful...

rockwell-thanksgiving.jpg (350×449)
In honor of Thanksgiving, here are 100 things I am thankful for. These are not the top 100, nor are they in order; just 100 things I appreciate. It sure has been fun thinking about the blessings in my life. I really should do that more often:

1. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
2. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit
3. The creativity, character, and love of the Father
4. My amazing wife, who also happens to be smokin' hot
5. My kids, who never stop being awesome
6. My job/ministry/calling
7. Cleveland, OH
8. My house
9. Attie
10. Satellite TV and DVR
11. Computers / the Internet
12. My overall health
13. Chocolate
14. My extended family (cousins, aunts, uncles, etc.)
15. My two parents who are both now sober
16. Books
17. The Apple Corporation and all of their products
18. The Cleveland Browns
19. The Ohio State Buckeyes
20. The Cleveland Indians
21. The Cleveland Cavaliers
22. The Kent State Golden Flashes
23. My '95 Honda Civic
24. La Croix UMC
25. Church of the Open Door
26. Pastors I enjoy listening to and being challenged by (Rob Bell, Andy Stanley, Perry Noble, Matt Chandler, Steven Furtick, etc.)
27. Podcasts I enjoy listening to (This American Life, Wait! Wait!, etc.)
28. Music I enjoy listening to (Phil Wickham, U2, David Crowder, Mute Math, Paper Route, Gungor, John Mark McMillan, Hillsong United, etc.)
29. The ability to hear
30. YouTube
31. Certain authors (Brennan Manning, Mark Batterson, Malcolm Gladwell, Douglas Adams, Bill Bryson, and Harper Lee to name a few)
32. Central heating and AC
33. Microwave technology
34. Soap
35. Toothpaste and toothbrushes
36. The Bible
37. The unique gift set and personality that God has given me
38. My brother and his family
39. Good friends
40. Good food (BBQ, steak and potatoes, Italian, etc.)
41. Donuts
42. The number 42
43. Ice cream
44. Teenagers who impress me with their faith and life
45. TV shows I have liked (Lost, Prison Break, Seinfeld, Sledgehammer, Captain Kangaroo, Sports Night, etc.)
46. Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots
47. Rain (as I type this, it is pouring outside)
48. Retreats and mission trips with youth
49. The privilege of being a part of what God is doing in the world
50. Cut and paste
51. Snow
52. The sun
53. Camping in the backyard with my kids
54. Date nights with my wife
55. Talking sports with my dad
56. Flying
57. Continuing ed trips
58. Holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter
59. Martin Luther King, Jr.
60. The people I work with
61. Memory foam
62. Playa del Carmen, Mexico
63. The sound of rain on my roof
64. The sound of my kids when I tickle them
65. The way my kids greet me when I come home
66. Movies (among my favorites: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Evil Dead 2, and To Kill a Mockingbird)
67. My small group
68. My early-morning senior high small group
69. Talking to my mom on the phone
70. My education: Waldo Elementary, River Valley JHS, Open Door Christian School, LCCC, BGSU, Kent State, and Asbury Seminary)
71. My wife's family
72. Deep-dish pizza
73. Sleep
74. Zombies and their movies
75. Big cities: Chicago, NYC, Washington DC, et al.
76. Small towns: Wilmore
77. Medical technology
78. Fire: fire pits, gas fireplaces, and bonfires
79. Bill Watteron and Berkeley Breathed
80. Funny and sweet things my kids say
81. Sports: football, basketball, baseball and soccer
82. Facebook
83. One sale a day websites (even though I rarely buy anything from them)
84. Parades
85. Fantasy football
86. PBJ sandwiches
87. Satellite TV
88. Eyeglasses
89. 'Duty'
90. Opposable thumbs
91. The X Games
92. The ability to read and comprehend
93. August 19th
94. Pain, because it helps me better appreciate non-pain
95. Washer and dryer
96. Coffee, Dr. Pepper, and Jones Cream Soda
97. Water
98. The moon and stars
99. Opportunities and the ability to preach
100. Encouraging words 

Monday, September 06, 2010

Fantasy Football Draft 2010

As promised, here is my fantasy football draft for 2010:

  1. Steven Jackson - RB - St. Louis
  2. Miles Austin - WR - Dallas
  3. Cedric Benson - RB - Cincinnati
  4. Greg Jennings - WR - Green Bay
  5. Brent Celek - TE - Philadelphia
  6. Ronnie Brown - RB - Miami
  7. Jay Cutler - QB - Chicago
  8. Dwayne Bowe - WR - KC
  9. Ricky Williams - RB - Miami
  10. Devin Aromashodu - WR - Chicago
  11. San Francisco - D/ST
  12. Ryan Longwell - K - Philadelphia
  13. Steve Smith - WR - New York Giants (keeper from last season)
I'm pretty please with it. Your thoughts?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

New Nike Ad with Tiger

I saw this latest ad from Nike featuring Tiger Woods and the voice of his deceased father. Frankly, I was appalled. This is in horrible taste to sell a few golf clubs and shirts. Did I mention that his dad is dead, and they are using his voice in an ad? Shame on you, Nike! And Tiger, after all of the poor decisions you have made recently, was there no part of you that said, "Hmmm, maybe this one isn't a great idea."? Guess not.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Life / Leadership Lessons from Prison

As I plow through the Bible in 2010, I hit Genesis 39-42 yesterday. This passage is about Joseph is prison after being falsely accused of hitting on Potiphar's wife, and his release from prison after Pharaoh finds out that he can interpret dreams. Some lessons that I think apply to leadership and life in general seemed to leap off the page at me. Rather than keeping them to myself, I thought I would share them in case one or two others of you can benefit:

Don't Let Circumstances Define You
Joseph was in prison. We are not told how long he was in there, but it's probably safe to assume it wasn't an overnight stay. He was put there after being a pretty important guy in Egypt. He could have let the experience sour him to life and embittered him toward God, but he didn't let that happen. He continued to follow after God and be faithful to him. We will experience hurts in life; while they will shape us, they don't have to define us.

Remember Who's Really In Charge
After Pharaoh heard about Joseph's ability to interpret dreams, he pulled him out of prison because he had been having some strange dreams. When he asked Joseph to interpret them, his reply was that he couldn't do it, but that God would. No matter how talented or gifted you are in your area of ministry, expertise, or leadership, stay humble and remember that the only reason you are that way is because God graced you to be.

Always Speak The Truth (Even If No One Wants To Hear It)
Joseph shared his time in prison with two other guys: a cupbearer and a baker. They each had weird dreams that they asked Joseph to interpret. The cupbearer's dream was a favorable dream, and Joseph told him so. The interpretation of the baker's dream was not so favorable: the interpretation meant death for him. Joseph did not try to sugarcoat the interpretation; he simply told him the truth. Sometimes its tempting to try to only make the people we work with, for, or over feel good and happy - because we don't want to offend or hurt anyone - when oftentimes, what they really need to hear is the truth, even if it hurts.

When God Opens a Door, Walk Right Through It
After Joseph gives the interpretation of Pharaoh's dream to him, which involved seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, he kept talking and told Pharaoh what he should do about it. Pharaoh didn't ask for his opinion, but he gave it anyway. As a result, Egypt - and more importantly, Joseph's family, which would ultimately produce Jesus - were saved. There are situations in life when people will not ask our opinion, even though we may be able to see things more clearly than others do. Don't be afraid to open your mouth and share your opinion. It may be just what we need to hear.

Those are my thoughts. What are yours?