This thing…it changed everything.

I should’ve known that following Jamie Golden on Twitter would’ve resulted in something awesome happening. I should’ve known that from the get-go.

A few weeks ago, I see her mention something about SocialEcclesia, and the name sounded too cool to pass up looking up what it was all about, so I do. Checking out their website, I’m immediately intrigued and convince my senior pastor, Chris DeGreen (quick newbie Twitter shout-out) to go with me to it.

We head up early Thursday morning and get there about 10 minutes before the thing begins. Just time enough to grab coffee and our seats. What happens next is just really a God thing.

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We are bombarded by awesome speakers and great material, super resources and incredible ideas, from the time we get there until the time we leave. There are moments of clarity that I am still wrestling with, and things I hope to remember as our church’s leadership continues to chew on everything together.

It was, quite possibly, the perfect thing to come along at the perfect time. Having the opportunity to hear folks like Justin Wise, Dave Willis, James AndrewsCarrie Kintz and more speak with passion about reaching the lost through social media…it was nothing short of extraordinary.

It was eye-opening. It was a time to re-evaluate everything we are doing as a church to reach people for Christ. Our entire car ride back to Birmingham was filled with ideas and thoughts and motivations.

If you have an opportunity to attend one of their one-day conferences, I would highly recommend it. It was an awe-inspiring day!

And now for something completely different…

Many of you that would read this blog probably know that I recently accepted a position at my church, Christ The King Lutheran Church, as the Communications Director. I’m doing a lot of things, but right now, I’m redesigning the church’s website and managing the church’s social network activity. I’ll be helping folks with implementing new email marketing things as well in the months to come.

But, I’ve also been volunteering my time with the youth of the church, for about the last year or so. It’s been an extremely surprising and rewarding time, and as I’ve gotten to know the kids in the group, I’ve seen my relationships with them deepen. In turn, my walk with God has deepened and it’s become a source of tremendous blessing for me personally.

This weekend was the annual winter retreat, and like last year, we convened in Gatlinburg, TN at the Roosevelt Lodge. The lodge itself is just an awesome house and I was really excited to be back there this year. Christy and the kids went with us, and we had 19 youth and three other adult leaders, including our new Youth Director, Kelly Mongoven. Kelly is into her first year in a program through the Memphis Theological Seminary and the Center for Youth Ministry Training. Every time I see how she is with the youth and how much thought and prayer goes into what she does with them, I thank God for placing her at CTK. I’m sure whoever God placed there would be great, but I believe in my heart that Kelly being selected for this program and being placed at this church was God’s chosen plan.

This year, the theme for the trip was “You Are Beloved”, and we focused on the things that the Bible tells us about being one of His beloved children. The kids really took to the lessons and songs we sang and as we broke into our small groups, I was privileged enough to be asked to lead the boys’ discussion group after each worship session. Our discussions were real, they were funny, they were poignant. I was constantly amazed at how this group of 13-16 year old kids could express themselves.

We spent a lot of time in playing together as well, and got even closer. Then Saturday night, something very special took place. Kelly had organized a prayer walk (playlist for the walk linked). Throughout the house, Kelly had set up 12 stations for the kids to go through, each one representing a different style of prayer.

This was the first station.

This was the first station.

As the kids took more than an hour to go through the stations, it was apparent to me and all the leaders that the kids’ hearts were being changed with this activity. It gave them a chance to express in words, actions and thoughts, and it was very liberating to them. Without a doubt, this was the highlight of my experience this weekend.

I went through the prayer walk myself and was blown away at how the activities really brought about thoughts I didn’t know I could have, feelings that lay dormant inside of me came springing to life. I saw kids who were “too cool” for most of the discussions throw themselves into the activities with reckless abandon. I saw Kelly being transformed as she walked throughout the house watching her kids participating in this.

This was Kelly’s first retreat with this group as Youth Director, and it will certainly be remembered as maybe the best trip of it’s kind that I’ve ever been associated with. I can’t wait to see what God is going to do with these kids from this trip!

 

Shroud of the Avatar – Release 1 Review

This past week, around 25,000 of my closest online friends got a chance to play around in the new world created by Ultima creator Richard Garriott.  Shroud of the Avatar is a new RPG that can be played in both single-player and online multiplayer modes.

Garriott’s new company, Portalarium, is the design studio behind Shroud of the Avatar, and after a successful Kickstarter campaign, they gave us all a taste of the game with some in-game footage right around the 30-day mark. Then recently, a 6-month progress video came out, and really showcased the game’s crafting and housing aspects. Around that time, the guys at Portalarium decided to give us their “release schedule”, a series of 3-day play tests designed to help test and showcase the various aspects within the game, giving backers a chance to play the game early on and help shape how the game is released.

Portalarium has done an outstanding job so far in getting the input of it’s fan base by plugging into their interests and giving them a forum to say what they want in the game. They’ve also made it possible to continue giving to the project, allowing you to increase your original Kickstarter campaign gift to unlock more and more goodies within the game.

This test was to showcase the town of Owl’s Head, one of the larger towns in the game, and give players a chance to claim whatever kind of house they wanted to and begin house decorating. The conversation feature was also enabled, giving players a chance to speak to the various NPCs in the town and test out the call/response format they’ve set up in the game. The point of the conversation feature is to make receiving and turning in quests much more organic (i.e. no more pushing an “Accept” or “Yes” button).

First off, I ran into the town and was met by an Owl’s Head guard who wanted to know my business in the Vale. He has been tasked with keeping all rough looking sorts out of the town, but after a few minutes of conversing with him, it seemed he was satisfied (for now) with my story. So into the town I went. I wasn’t aware of it right away, but the devs decided to place chests of loot, both housing stuff and armor and weapons, in various places throughout Owl’s Head.

Once I figured that out, it was quite fun to run around and treasure hunt in the various open public buildings in the town for the chests. I found a bunch of armor and weapons and a ton of housing things, including furniture, crafting stations, paintings and more (even the coveted Throne of Bones!)

The most expensive house in the game (to date) is the Lord of the Manor house, and it was in the Owl’s Head for claiming, so of course I went and claimed ownership of the property. The only downside to this property is that (at least in this set up) there wasn’t a ton of outdoor space to work with. But this is overcome by having nearly endless space on the inside.

A few of the locks inside were buggy but I worked my way around that. There is so much space in this house, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to be comfortable in something smaller!

There were so many little things that reminded me of Ultima Online, the Ultima game I remember and cherish most. Things like the paperdoll character screen to the animals roaming the town, the text of speech being above the characters head and more. You got a sense that this game not only pays homage to the past but is trying to innovate it and bring it forward into the new style of gaming choices.

This game is only 8 months into an 18-month development schedule, and there are many bugs (mostly small ones) but from what I’ve seen, I couldn’t be happier that I’ve contributed to the development of this game and look forward to Release 2 coming in late January when the crafting system is released! More on that in January! Here are a bunch of screenshots I took in the game.

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The Facebook Rant I Won’t Post

There are some times in life when you’ve just had enough. You’ve seen the people on your Facebook feed “like” one too many Paula Deen or Rush Limbaugh status updates, and it’s time to pull the plug with one final rant to end it all.

I do try and stay as non-political on Facebook…well, I do now. I didn’t used to be that way but rarely is anybody’s opinion of anything changed by a Facebook status update, and as my awesome wife is fond of saying, things like that can usually do more harm than good.

But I’m over it…and while I don’t yet have the balls to post this rant directly to Facebook (and therefore be forced to deal with the backlash to the point of probably having to close my account for a while), I decided to at least get my thoughts out here in blog form. Yeah…it’s not quite the same I guess, but here goes.

/beginrant

What the hell is wrong with you people?!? Yes, I get that most of the people this rant is directed at have probably already “hidden” me so they probably won’t see it, but on the off chance that you are one of those who I am talking to (and you’ll know very soon who you are), pay attention…as I repeat myself once more…

What the hell is wrong with you people?!?

I mean it…what happened?  So many people on my Facebook feed here are liking things and posting things that are so divisive that I don’t know how it is we were even at one time friends.  People posting comments to morons like Mike Huckabee’s Facebook page, Glenn Beck’s Facebook page, and the like…people backing Rick Perry and his anti-woman stances in Texas…people actually thinking that gay people are sub-standard for wanting the same federal benefits that so many of us enjoy as heterosexual (or as you would put it, “normal”) couples.

So again…WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!?

And where in the hell do you get off using God and Jesus and the Bible as your justification for the blatant racist and sexist remarks, for all your class warfare?  Where in the Bible does it say “Marriage is only a religious institution and therefore if anyone tries to enter into any type of union other than what we deem as traditional marriage, it is therefore an abomination and the people involved should be exorcised from society and never given full citizen status”…where does it say that you are able to discriminate against people based on who they love, based on what color their skin is, and what gives you the right to think that someone calling some a “nigger” is anything other than a backwards-thinking redneck who needs to join us in the 21st century…hell, I’d like it if they at least caught up to the end of the 20th century. That would be at least progress.

Huckabee wants to say that “Jesus wept” over the rights of gay people to get married and have their unions recognized by the federal government. Let me tell you something, Mike…Jesus wept over a lot of things, and many of them were probably over things that spewed forth from your mouth.  Jesus loved…he loved all. He mixed it up with the worst in society back then because he knew that’s where people were. He knew the Pharisees had it wrong, and you, sir, are a modern day Pharisee, as are many of your compatriots in the mainstream right-wing media.

At the very least, understand this. Religion and politics were always meant to be separate but equal. But the minute people starting dragging God into the political arena, things got askew.  There’s a reason why our founding father’s made the first amendment to the Constitution the way they did. They knew the state could never work if it was controlled by people let themselves be overly influenced by religious groups. They came from that lifestyle in England and other places where state-run religions were a way of life. They wanted whatever religion you practiced to be between you, your God or gods, and your community. That’s it.

God-centered politics are all about an agenda.  Lots of religious organizations are trying to get their voices heard and they have deep pockets, and so that money equals influence in Washington. But when that influence spreads to less rights for women and minorities and immigrants, it’s too far.

It’s too far.

My God is in my heart, in my home, in my church, in my church family. That’s where he thrives, and I want to take His message of love to the world, but for the love of almighty God…

Keep God out of politics.

#BurgerCoalition Celebrates One Year Anniversary In Style

Some months ago, I was fortunate to run into Dan Gavin on Twitter, and was introduced to he and James Martin’s concept of a monthly burger club called Burger Coalition.  After several failed attempts at securing an invite to their monthly gatherings, I managed to pull it off earlier this year, and was able to attend a second one this year as well. Soon after our gathering at Flip Burger, Dan revealed his plans to have a grand celebration at the one year mark, and last night was that night. And oh, what a night it was.

The crowd was hoping early.

The crowd was hopping early.

Dan and James had a simple idea: to create an atmosphere where  new people could meet each other and get to know one another over great food, specifically great burgers.  And while their idea isn’t complicated, it certainly has taken off and grown into quite the monthly gathering.

The one-year anniversary party was held at Octane Coffee in Homewood, and from start to finish, the event was a catered affair.  Chefs Wil Drake and Roscoe Hall of Magnolia Creek were the masters of the evening.  Octane Coffee is a relatively new spot over in the heart of Homewood, and is a great spot for an event such as this.

Right out of the gate, people were trying unique beverages from the bar and I could tell it was going to be a perfect evening.  The bartenders were mixing with superb skill and it was a pleasure to be surrounded by so many like-minded foodies.  Octane had a great selection of specialty drinks available and some great craft beers from various locations.

The first thing we got to enjoy was Lauren Sharp’s “Next Door” macaroons. They might’ve been my favorite part of the night.  They were bacon jam with mascarpone cheese and they were absolutely divine.

Ridiculously delicious macaroon!

Ridiculously delicious macaroon!

These macaroons were obviously made to look like burgers but they tasted like a little bit of heaven.  And the shoestring crunchy fries to go along with it were a great touch.  The salty and sweet combination made for an absolutely perfect start to the night. And from there, it just took off.

Chefs Wil and Roscoe came out to give us the rundown of what we could expect with our meal, and it was nothing short of spectacular.  The first course was a faux crab cake made from spaghetti squash and squid ink.  After that, we had some outstanding mustard ice cream served on (get this!) a Bugel.  That’s right…a mini ice-cream cone…unbelievable!

After the palette cleanser, we moved onto the next course, a real comfort food special, potato salad made from gnocchi. It was unreal…just excellently prepared and pulled off.  Then, it was time to move onto the main attraction, the burger.

C'mere you!

C’mere you!

The burger itself was great…the meat was farm-raised beef from a friend’s North Carolina farm, and the buns were homemade and baked earlier that week specifically for the party.  The burgers were covered in caramelized onions and homemade cheese whiz.  The kettle-style chips were topped with this amazing ox-tail gravy which in any other circumstance might’ve been the both the highlight of the night and also awesome on the burger itself.

The burger was superbly cooked at medium rare and had a flavor that’s really hard to explain.  The cheese whiz was a nice touch and made for an interesting flavor in and of itself.  But to me, that ox-tail gravy was out of this world.

And what would a night dedicated to burgers be without a little milkshake for dessert.  And here is where the chefs really outdid themselves.  The banana malt milkshake was topped with pink peppercorn and (get this again!) pop rocks!

As if you had room for this...

As if you had room for this…

After I received mine, I took it and mixed it all together and the flavor of the bananas, chocolate, malt, peppercorn and pop rocks were unreal together.  It was one of the more unique things I had ever had, and really just an exquisite ending to the night.

Dan and James came back out and thanked us for a great night and a great first year of Burger Coalition. But in truth, it was the 60 or so of us that should’ve thanked them for taking us with them on this journey of food and social exploration.  They have created quite the movement here in Birmingham and also in Atlanta, and it goes to further show that all it takes is a simple but great idea to resonate with the people of the South.

I am looking forward to the next year of Burger Coalition and where it will take me and everyone else who jumps in. My question to you is this…what are you waiting for?

[SPORTS] What Did We Learn – Game 1, Braves v. Phillies

Opening Day! It doesn’t get more exciting than that…and as people filled the various ballparks across the country, Turner Field was packed as well, as the Braves and Phillies kicked off the 2013 campaign.

Starting for Atlanta was Tim Hudson, the 37-year old veteran of the squad. Opposing him was Cole Hamels, the ace of the Phillies staff, and one of the better left-handed pitchers in the game today.

The Braves were debuting their new outfield of Justin and B.J. Upton to go along with Jason Heyward, and big things are expected from them. The Braves were also sporting a new third baseman in Chris Johnson (who will platoon, at least early on, with Juan Francisco, who was Chipper’s backup last year).

So what did we learn from the first game of the year?

1 – Tim Hudson still has to be able to locate and get strike one on batter to stay effective. Hudson’s key pitch is a sinker that, when on, is one of the better pitches in baseball. It’s effective at getting ground balls but when his command is not what it should be, he stays up in the zone and he simply doesn’t have the velocity anymore to blow hitters away. Chase Utley has particular success against Hudson last night when Hudson failed to get his sinker to sink. But Hudson is a battler and he kept the Phillies mostly in check last night.

2 – Freddie Freeman could be up for a super huge year. This guy’s swing has very little wrong with it, and he sees the ball in the zone and really puts good swings on the ball to all fields. He had a tremendous spring and I predict he’ll be one of the leaders in many offensive categories come the All-Star Break.

3 – The bullpen, while a touch shaky, showed why it could be one of the best in baseball. Kimbrel pitched well to close the game, after a few command issues in the spring, and Avilan was also solid. O’Flaherty and Walden both gave up runs but neither pitched that bad. The Phillies have a pretty good offensive lineup so you don’t have too much to be ashamed of when they score on you.

4 – Justin Upton and Dan Uggla both went deep (along with Freeman) and it showed that we could be up for a huge year in the power department from this Braves squad. But, they did strike out 8 times in 33 plate appearances as a team, so hopefully more plate discipline will result in that number coming down into the more manageable 4-6 range.

The Braves are off today and head back onto the field on Wednesday as Paul Maholm and Roy Halladay face off. Go Braves!

Today I saw you

Today, I saw you. And you saw me. We haven’t seen each other in years…probably bordering on more than 3 years since we saw each other last. And it happened so fast…I’m not even sure what I saw.

I saw you…and I must say, you look great. I can’t say I stared at you…I don’t know why but both of us seemed pretty engrossed in our phones. But the few moments I stole looking your way gave me all I needed to know about how you’re doing…you’re doing great.  I’m glad you feel good and that things are going so good with you and your family.

When I turned around and saw you, my instinctive “hey” was heartfelt, and the one I got in return was as well.  I wonder what would’ve happened if I had swallowed my pride and gone up to you after that…?  I wonder if you would’ve been nice…or maybe merely polite.

I hurt your feelings, that much was clear when we stopped being friends more than 3 years ago.  I apologized. A lot. And still it didn’t seem to matter.  ‘Give me time’, you said, and so I did. It didn’t seem to change anything.  Our lives as friends had diverged in a wood and we went down separate paths.

It’s okay, really. I get it. I don’t get the lack of forgiveness though. Yeah, I’ve spent a little time thinking about you these past 3 years, not a lot mind you…and only really when someone else in my life mentions you. I don’t bring you up to the people I know because it’s obvious now that you and your family are a chapter in my life and my family’s life that’s closed. For good.

But yeah, I don’t get the lack of forgiveness. God teaches us to love one another…part of loving each other is forgiving each other when we inevitably wrong someone. Forgiveness isn’t easy, Lord knows I know that. But I’m trying.

Are you?

You would probably say that you are, and you may even say you have forgiven me, but maybe you’d also say that you know you don’t want me or my family in your life at all. That hurts, I won’t lie. The countless hours our families spent together over the years tell me otherwise. But if you’re in a different place in your life and don’t need me or my family in your life, that’s your choice.

I hope you have forgiven me. I hope you have. I hope there wasn’t a moment when you saw me today, when that lump jumped up in your throat and you said “Hey” when you remembered that you hadn’t forgiven me. Because I forgave you a long time ago.

And now, I’ve let you go.