Black Lives Matter Rally in Minneapolis

Today my family went to the Million Artist Movement rally/protest in downtown Minneapolis. It’s part of #BlackLivesMatter response to the continuing racial injustice in cases like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others.

It’s interesting. I’ve never really protested before. I’ve been to a few peace protests, mostly in response to 9/11 and the continuing war in Iraq, but I was more there as a journalist/observer than a participant.

Today I was here first and foremost as a dad. Secondly as a protestor myself.

It’s been kind of a bizarre week talking about these cases with our kids.

How do you explain all of this to your kids?

How do you explain what a “die in” is?

How do you explain to your brown-skinned son that police are killing brown-skinned people?

How do you explain that police are still heroes? That while this injustice happens and it’s bad and we want to stop it, not all police officers are bad?

None of it is easy, I can tell you that.

When we told Milo that Michael Brown and Eric Garner were black, he broke down in tears.

His reaction broke my heart. But it also seems like the only appropriate way to respond.

The civil rights movement may have been 50 years ago and we did elect a black president, but that doesn’t mean injustice is over. It’s still all around us, it’s still causing pain, and it’s our time to stop it.

At the rally they led us in a song. I shot a quick video of part of it:

Oh the day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more
The day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more
But while my sister ain’t equal
And my brother can’t breathe
Hand in hand with my family we will fill these streets.

I can’t help but think of the day that will come when we don’t have to march or cry or fight or despair no more. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. It’s a kingdom hope, but it doesn’t have to be an unattainable hope.

This whole thing is hard and complicated and painful and difficult. If you’re feeling those things, I feel them with you. Please listen.

At the end of the rally they had ribbons and asked us to write something on the ribbons. Here’s what we wrote:

Black Lives Matter A Lot Black Lives Matter!My Boy Shouldn't Cry No More!

Black Lives Matter: Listen & Finding Solutions

News broke this evening of no indictment in the death of Eric Garner. I wasn’t following this news very closely, but it serves as just one more incident of unnecessary death.

In the span of a few weeks 12-year-old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by police, within seconds of police arriving on the scene; there was no indictment in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Mo.; and now there’s no indictment in the Eric Garner case.

Where the Michael Brown case might seem murky (no video, conflicting stories, charging the officer), the Eric Garner case seems much more direct. There’s video of the confrontation and while Garner is subdued on the ground an officer has him in a choke hold and doesn’t let up, even though the NYPD doesn’t authorize that kind of force.

Their are now protests around the country. My Twitter feed is lit up with outrage.

I don’t want to debate the ins and outs of any of this. I’m tired of that. But there are two things bothering me: Continue reading

My Kid’s Repeat Halloween Costume

Two years ago my son Milo dressed up as Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon for Halloween. This year? Same thing.

It is a pretty great costume. Here he is two years ago:

I kind of love that he’s re-using his costume. It’s only because he’s completely obsessed with dragons and since the sequel came out this summer he’s all over it again.

My wife makes awesome Halloween costumes.

Churches Suck at Welcoming People

UnwelcomeWalking into a church for the first time can be pretty scary. Churches aren’t very good at making people feel welcome. Which is why I’m proud to be part of the new book, Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Visitors by Jonathan Malm.

It helps churches realize where they’re dropping the ball and scaring people away, whether it’s over-eager greeters hugging people (yikes!) or a cold congregation reserving seats (icy!). Jonathan offers practical tips and ideas, drawn from his vast church experience. He’s got funny stories that make the medicine easier to swallow.

You can grab some sample chapters at UnwelcomeBook.com to get a taste.

“‘Narthex’ sounds like a creature from a Dr. Seuss book. Make your signs visible and understandable.”

My Role in Unwelcome

This is the first CFCC book I didn’t contribute anything to, but I did handle the editing, proofreading and I’m very involved in the marketing. Rather than being bummed I don’t have my name on the cover, it’s kind of cool to see other folks’ stuff getting out there. Jonathan has a lot of great insight and experience (this is his fourth book this year alone!). I was also thrilled to get Kem Meyer to write the foreword.

“Don’t ask what it can hurt. Ask how it can help.”

Unwelcome Launch Week Sale

We’re also doing a big push this week only, so if you’re interested in Unwelcome, grab it now. The digital version is $7.49 and the print is $9.89, this week only. Next week they’ll go up to $9.99 and $12.99 respectively.

“You can’t force your congregation to be welcoming, but you can cast vision.”

School District 197’s 2014 Tech/Security/Stadium Referendum

Apparently this is the year I blog about local election politics. Sheesh. I didn’t intend to get into these discussions, but it’s been so frustrating to get misleading information. It’s hard enough to research local elections, we shouldn’t have to wade through misleading info as well.

197 Referendum Facts

So School District 197 (West St. Paul, Eagan and Mendota Heights) has a referendum on the ballot to approve levies for three separate things—technology, security and a new stadium.

You can get the full details of the referendum here.

The technology portion covers student iPads and other equipment, as well as software and training (there’s lots of personalized instruction that can happen with technology these days, but you have to pay for it). The security levy is to upgrade school entrances and minimize the risk of school shootings. The stadium portion—which can only pass if the other two pass (very smart)—is to build a multi-use stadium at the high school. Currently the football team plays 2.5 miles away at one of the middle schools.

For a $200,000 home, this referendum will raise property taxes by $32 per year. The district has some helpful graphs showing our property taxes compared to surrounding districts, before and after the levy.

Continue reading

Be a Human

Have you seen the story about the Green Bay alderman quizzing a Muslim about terrorism before answering her question? Crazy.

Here’s the full blown exchange and the USA Today story, but basically the woman, Heba Mohammad, emailed Green Bay Alderman Chris Wery asking about free public transportation on election day. An innocent question, especially considering Green Bay offers free bus service on Packer game days, and not a bad idea. But beside the point.

Instead of answering, Wery asks Mohammad about her background with a local Muslim student group:

I just want to be assured that your group in no way promotes or defends militant Islamic ideology or Sharia law. Do you and the MSA condemn both of those as well as terrorist groups such as HAMAS?

What?!

Wery has quickly apologized, brushing it off as being busy with too many things at once. He realizes he was too blunt and phrased it poorly.

I’ll say. Give the guy the benefit of the doubt, sure, even Mohammad was impressed he called to apologize.

But let’s treat each other like people, OK? You don’t grill someone about stereotypical associations before being willing to talk to them. Especially when you’re an elected official.

Nobody asks me if I condemn the KKK before taking my questions.

I Will Not Finish Books I Don't Like

33 Thoughts on Reading from Austin Kleon

I think perhaps Austin Kleon has reduced my book on reading down to 33 quick points. My book was pretty short anyway, but if you’re too busy for that, Austin’s version will work.

Austin Kleon is the creative mind behind Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work!—both are good kick-in-the-pants books for creatives.

I can really get behind his points:

1. I will make time for reading, the way I make time for meals, or brushing my teeth.

4. I will read whatever the hell I feel like.

20. When I find an author I truly adore, an author who makes my gutstrings vibrate, I will read everything they have written. Then I will read everything that they read.

21. If I hate a book, I will keep my mouth shut.

Some of it is advice I’ve had a hard time following (though it’s still in my book):

8. I will not finish books I don’t like.

But this past week I really put it into practice. If a book isn’t doing it for you, move on. No obligations. I quit about four books in a row last week before finally settling on one I liked.

And I’ll let it go that some sound like he’s quoting me (steal like an artist), because it’s the best advice ever:

2. I will make an effort to carry a book with me at all times.

24. I will keep stacks of unread books at the ready.

25. The minute I finish a book, I will start a new one.

It’s a fun little post on reading. If you want to go deeper, you can check out my book, but this probably has you covered.

West St. Paul Mayor Race: John Zanmiller vs. David Meisinger

Local elections are usually yawn fests, but this year the race for mayor in the Twin Cities suburb of West St. Paul is heating up. incumbent West St. Paul Mayor John Zanmiller is facing off against former West St. Paul Mayor David Meisinger.

Zanmiller has served as West St. Paul’s major since 2005 and ran unopposed in the last election in 2012. Meisinger served as mayor from 2001-2002. (You can see Zanmiller and Meisinger together in this 2013 photo from a gathering of past West St. Paul mayors.)

The contentious issue in the 2014 West St. Paul mayor race? Robert Street.

Continue reading

Turned on the Heat 2014

Finally caved in and turned on the heat this afternoon. After a couple days in the 70s and 80s, temps have sunk below 60 consistently. The cold, overcast days haven’t allowed anything to warm up in the afternoon, so it’s been a high of 60 in our living room.

That’s probably ridiculous.

The forecast has temps dipping into the 30s at night and never getting above the high 50s. So it’s time.

We had a very cool summer this year, rarely getting those hot and humid days when we hit 90. Now the fall seems to be following suit, going cold pretty quickly.

Here’s my annual breakdown:

U2’s Songs of Innocence

Best. Date. Ever.I can be pretty fanatical about my love for U2. Since 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, their music has been fiercely personal and deeply spiritual for me.

So yesterday’s surprise news at the Apple event that U2 was releasing a brand new album and giving it away for free? Incredible.

There was a mad scramble as 500 million iTunes users powered up the program (many of us for the first time in a long time) and tried to grab the new album. Once I finally got it downloaded, I had to sit back and let it play.

The last time a new U2 album came out—2009’s No Line on the Horizon—I sat at the kitchen table and streamed the entire thing on MySpace (yeah, remember MySpace’s short-lived second life as a music site?) while waiting for news of my son Milo’s adoption.

(We cleared court and were able to announce Milo’s adoption to the world later that day.)

U2’s music is special, and that first listen is always interesting. I like to grab my initial thoughts on a new U2 album. It’s funny because it’s hard to judge music on a single listen. The songs you hate at first grow on you. The songs you loved can get tired. So you end up being wrong. But it’s still fun. I did it with No Line on the Horizon and before that with 2004’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.

Songs of Innocence

What’s perhaps most interesting about this album is that U2 has been working on putting out an album for ever.  Bono has said they’ve recorded several albums, they just haven’t released them.  And now they drop the album with very little warning. If you were following the rumors, there was talk that we’d get a new album in 2014, then in September, then a week before the Apple event there were unconfirmed rumors about U2 being involved. But we never had a single, never had an album name, never had a date and the Apple rumors were denied right up to the day. It’s a very different release strategy (compare it to the hype for How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which also included a big Apple partnership).

The album is also being described as a very personal one, reaching back to U2’s roots as teenagers.

My Song-by-Song First Impressions

So with all that, my initial thoughts as a fan:

“The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone”
It feels bold and joyful, crisp and fun. I love the guitar, love the driving beat. I like the line, “Music so I can exaggerate my pain.” Really like the abrupt end.

“Every Breaking Wave”
I like the sonic feel of this album.

“California (There Is No End to Love)”
I hate the “Santa Barbara’s” at the beginning, but once it gets going it’s better. I love the idealism in the lyrics: “All I need to know is there is no end to love.”

“Song for Someone”
Slowing it down. I like the echoing on the verses. Thematically it reminds me of “Stuck in a Moment” “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own.”

“Iris” (Hold Me Close)
It reminds me of “Miracle Drug.” But it has a deeply melancholy feeling (I read later that Iris is Bono’s mother, who died when he was 14).

“Volcano”
I like the thumping bass. It has that ‘garbage can’ feel reminiscent of “All Because of You,” though this is a little more polished. I like the driving beat. The album seems to get darker and grittier from here on.

“Raised by Wolves”
Huh? This is different. The near spoken word delivery remind me of “The Wanderer” and the chorus has echoes of “Bullet the Blue Sky” and early U2. As much as U2 embraces belief, they also embrace doubt: “I don’t believe anymore.”

“Cedarwood Road”
More of the gritty feel. Nice acoustic guitar in the mix. “A heart that is broken is a heart that is open.”

“Sleep Like a Baby Tonight”
Wha? Weird keyboard stuff at the start. This one is dark and ethereal. I like the falsetto on the bridge: “Hope is where the door is / When the church is where the war is.” I don’t know what that means, but I like it.

“This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now”
More of the gritty sound. This one is fun. I like the “choir-ish” vocals. It doesn’t sound like U2 and I love that.

“The Troubles”
I like the guest vocals from Lykke Li. Bono is amazing, but I wish they would experiment like that some more. This is a dark closer, but it’s hopeful. I like how it ends.

Songs of Innocence as a Whole

I’m not sure what I think of the whole album. No Line on the Horizon was a so-so album, and I think there are elements of that here. But it also feels like they push past that and create some better stuff. I’m still not sure if I have some standout songs. I like “The Miracle,” but it doesn’t strike me like other singles have. Not yet anyway.

I do like the thematic approach. They feel like more personal songs.

Anyway, there it is. New U2. Check out RollingStone‘s song-by-song take and their interview with Bono.

A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.