Adventure Is Out There – A Visit With The Arkansas Halls

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This past Friday, the Texas Halls took a trip to Norfork, Arkansas to see my brother and his family (the Arkansas Halls).

We had a good time:

  • Exploring the Blanchard Springs Caverns. I found it interesting to hear that the man who did the lighting for the caverns normally lit opera houses for a living. I also thought it was interesting that the Cathedral Room is long enough to hold three football fields. If you are ever in the Ozarks, I can’t recommend visiting the Blanchard Springs Caverns enough.
  • Sticking our feet in the White River/Norfork Lake junction. The water was freezing! Felt so good.
  • Eating some BBQ at Holy Smokes in Mountain Home, Arkansas. BBQ isn’t quite what I’m used to in Texas but the sauce was solid. The smoked macaroni and cheese–while good–screams for some bacon.
  • Mowing my brother’s yard on his new riding lawn mower.
  • Hanging out, swimming, talking, and launching fireworks.

I enjoyed getting to catch up with my brother and his family. Was fun to see where they live now and experience a little taste of their new surroundings. We will return… once my brother fixes his go-kart!

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Drowning Mr. Fox in Celluloid

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I was first introduced to the work of Roald Dahl when a summer school teacher decided to read James and the Giant Peach aloud. This introduction was memorable to me for two reasons:

  1. Dahl’s words put my young imagination into overdrive. Who would have ever thought that a story about a group of insects, a boy, and a giant peach could be that amazing?
  2. Listening to Mr. Cook read James and the Giant Peach aloud was the first time I had ever heard a man read a book, of that length, aloud. My Grandpa Ayers would later read books aloud to my siblings and I on camping trips. I loved it when he read (especially Bible stories). There is power when men read aloud to children.

My summer with Mr. Cook and James and the Giant Peach would eventually come to an end. Over the years, I would bump into Dahl’s work on the occasion, such as when the movie Matilda came out —Matilda was a favorite of my Grandpa Ayers, he would jokingly tell my cousins that he was going to take them to the chokey–.

Wyatt and I discovered Dahl’s The BFG a few years ago. I was surprised by how well the book read as it mixes horror elements with made up words and fart jokes. We also read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory soon after. Which was a fun book to read as I had only experienced Wonka in film.

This past Fall, Wyatt and I read Fantastic Mr Fox. This book was both a delight and a surprise to come across. Fantastic Mr Fox is about three farmers, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean growing tired of Mr Fox stealing from them. So they wage an all out war/assault on Mr Fox and his house. Mr Fox ends up losing a body part but ultimately strikes back with a masterful plan. The book is told in a straightforward fashion and is hilarious to read aloud due to Dahl’s use of words. Fantastic Mr Fox is so good read aloud that my brother-in-law, who was staying with us at that time, would sit and listen.

Summer has been baking East Texas, so Tab and Wyatt picked up the movie version of the book the other day. Now there are solid movie adaptations of books, such as Steven Speilberg’s The BFG, and there are horrid film versions that just need to die. Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a travesty. The film unsuccessfully mashes Wes Anderson’s typical character template and storytelling tropes with Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox. Tabitha, Wyatt, and I kept looking at each other wondering what was going on. Bits and pieces of Fantastic Mr Fox were present in the film but were drowned out by Anderson’s style and artistic story license. We were all very disappointed and thankful we had rented the movie from the library.

I noticed, in the movie, that anytime the animals were going to say a bad word, they’d say the word “cuss” instead. The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a great big bowl of cuss. But don’t let that keep you from reading Roald Dahl’s classic with your kids.

Maybe one day a director will do Fantastic Mr Fox justice.

JBG Rewind – Should Men Put Video Games Away As “Childish Things” For Their Wives / Girlfriends?

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I wrote this piece back in 2014. Four years later, I still do not think that this is healthy situation, no matter the hobby. – Bryan

This tale is as old as 1989.

Boy meets girl. Girl dislikes boys hobby. Boy gives up hobby for girl. Girl gives up nothing. Swap the genders; swap the roles. Rinse. Wash. Dry.

I have known countless guys who have given up their favorite hobby due to a spouse or girlfriend disapproving– I am sure that this is true for the female species as well. Once upon a time, these guys enjoyed playing video games. They used them to drop stress levels, rest, and relax. For some reason though, chemistry, the alignment of the stars, who knows, they end up coupling with someone who disapproves/looks down upon their hobby. So they have to quit, have to walk away from something they love, to be in love.

I just don’t get it. If you are in a loving relationship, your spouse or girlfriend should accept you for who you are. They shouldn’t be out to change fundamental parts that make up you. Sure, your bad habit of tossing clothes on the floor may need to be corrected, because let’s face it, your mom always cleaned up after you. Too personal? Sorry.

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Video games are often seen as a less mature hobby than following a team of guys in tight fitting clothing. Huh? How is it that working on cars, following a sports team, or going hunting are somehow more respectable and less “little boy”? A hobby is a hobby. Video games are no worse than stamp collecting. Except that unlike a stamp collection, video games deal with:

  • Complex realities
  • Connecting players through interdependent activities
  • Challenging players with complex decision making

My wife has been accepting of my hobby from the get go. She encourages me to sit down and play games. She realizes that I often use video games to de-stress. As long as I am not playing World of Warcraft (the marriage killer), I’m golden. This does not mean that I play games every day of the week. Gaming for me, married, with a kid, looks more like a couple of hours a week. Some nights, my wife even joins me. I’ve always appreciated that about her. She loves me for who I am.

I am tired of those around me feeling guilt, having to change, just to conform to the person they love. If you are in a loving healthy relationship, your significant other will understand the healthy hobbies you chose to pursue.

Note: My friend Scott reminds me that the picture I painted above is painted by an individual who is loving, mature, and self-controlled–most of the time. Video games, as with any hobby, can be distorted and abused in the hands of an undisciplined individual. In order not to feed into the video game stigma your wife/girlfriend might view the hobby through, Scott suggests setting some ground rules:

  1. Be mindful of your wife/girlfriend, even though the game demands attention.
  2. Always be ready to pause. Pretty much everything is more important than your next in-game checkpoint, so put the controller down if you need to.
  3. Tell her how long you intend to play – and stick to the plan.

No matter the hobby, communication and respect are foundational to building healthy relationships. I want to encourage you to let go of any video game guilt you might carry, set some healthy ground rules, and game on.

I also wrote a follow up piece to this from the female perspective. 

Becoming a Welcoming Church

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Over the past year and a half, my church has been in the process of evaluating guest experience. A process that has brought about:

  • A multilayered greeter ministry
  • Clear campus-wide wayfinding signage
  • Rebranding/refreshing of both the church logo and website
  • As well as a bunch of other small adjustments (ease of giving, etc.)

I recently came across Thom S. Rainer’s Becoming a Welcoming Church due to a clever video I saw on Facebook.

Becoming a Welcoming Church is a short book (6 chapters) that focuses on the church’s Biblical mandate towards hospitality.

Always be eager to practice hospitality. – Romans 12:13b

What I loved about Becoming a Welcoming Church, is Thom’s laid-back writing style. He lazer focuses on issues he has come across and offers helpful solutions on:

  • Church Signage
  • Church Safety
  • Being a Clean Church (literally)
  • Greeters
  • Welcome Centers

Thom also repeatedly hammers down on the need for accurate and updated information on the church web site, which he calls the front door of the church.

I loved how Thom talks about the importance of having a doctrinal statement on the church web site (this was a conversation I had with my church when refreshing the site):

Lack of clarity about beliefs or doctrine. Not all guests will check this important item, but many will. Churches should not hesitate to share with clarity what they believe, particularly their core beliefs. Some of the most effective means to communicate doctrine begin with a simple link on the home page that says: “What We Believe.” Those who choose to view the doctrinal statement can click to a full page of the church’s basic beliefs. You may lose as many as half of your potential guests without this item. (Location 549)

I also appreciated his story on having greeters arrive early:

Arriving too late; leaving too early. Mike became the second greeter at my rural church in southern Indiana. He was blown away I asked him to serve. Our service started at 11:00 a.m. (surprise!), but Mike was always outside ready to greet by 10:30 a.m., even if no one had yet arrived. I told Mike he did not have to be in his greeter role that early. He disagreed. In fact, he kind of chastised me. “Pastor,” he said sternly, “I was serving in this spot when Hank arrived a few months ago. We started a great conversation. He began to feel okay about coming into the church. And you know the rest of the story. Hank got saved a few weeks later.” Mike paused for a moment. The intensity in his expression was strong. “So,” he continued. “If getting here a few minutes early makes a difference in someone’s eternity, I think it’s a small price to pay.” (Location 873)

My quick read of Becoming a Welcoming Church was an excellent reminder of the process my church has been working through. After reading, I can now see a few areas for improvement (web site related) that I hope to remedy. Great book if you are looking to evaluate your church’s guest experience. The “Church Facility Audit” and “Secret Guest Survey”, that are provided in the back of the book, are helpful tools as well.

Perfect Peace

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I have felt out of sorts lately. Distracted. I was telling my firefighter friend this and he shared the following verse:

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” – Isaiah 26:3

On my wedding day, I was nervous. I was experiencing those wedding day jitters full of irrational thoughts. In the midst of getting ready for the ceremony, I knew I wanted God-given peace. I wanted to plant a flag, that day, where I could look back and remember that God was there on my wedding day. I remember asking Him for that peace that surpasses all understanding, and He gave it to me. As my bride walked down the center aisle of our church, I felt the confidence and reassurance that only He provides through His peace.

I’ve been been missing that peace in life lately. Thankfully I know that all I have to do is trust and fix my thoughts on God. He will do the rest. But it is one thing to know what one has to do and another thing to actually move forward and do it.

Surprise – Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

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Came home from the Awana Awards Ceremony at church, last night, and collapsed on the couch. I’m not sure what it is about Wednesday nights, maybe its the going from work directly to church, but I find it exhausting. The worst part is that I’m super tired and wired up after playing with the kids. Enough whining though.

Once things settled down, and I put Wyatt to bed, I collapsed on the couch once more. Firing up the PS4, I aimlessly searched for a game to play. Not sure about you, but I often sit down with the intent to play something and can’t make up my mind. I then end up watching videos on YouTube or some show on Netflix. But last night I noticed a demo I had downloaded awhile back, Yakuza 6: The Song of Life.

The game demo begins with a cold shower of story told through cutscenes (more like a story flood). Eventually, Yakuza 6 led me through a quick fight tutorial followed by another dousing of cutscenes (I’ll be good, I promise!). The whole game, so far, amounting to a crash course in all things yakuza told through superb Japanese voice acting. I was surprised that I had somehow missed this action-adventure series; delighted at finding a new genre at the video game buffet.

From what I played last night, Yakuza 6 follows protagonist Kazuma Kiryu as he attempts to find out what happened to a woman named Haruka. The game features an open world that mixes exploration, conversations, and full blown street brawls into a tasty dish.

I played for over an hour in a tired daze. Drinking in the sights, sounds, and detailed world (complete with vending machines) of Kamurocho.

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life is not what I expected. I had expected to play the game for a few moments and then delete it due to mature content. But instead, I found a thoughtful adventure game mixing story with fighting and cinematic flare.

I’m still not done with the Yakuza 6 demo, but I will be back. Ready to kick some butt and find out what happened to Haruka.