Friday, April 29, 2011


You can drive down any number of secondary roads in Williamson County, Tennessee, and you will eventually come across a barn. Here is a photo of me in an abandoned barn near my house in Franklin, Tennessee.

Even in their eroded condition, some barns submit to the laws of gravity while beautifully maintaining their balance. 

Other barns need help.

Some barns have serious problems if viewed from a different angle.

Certain problems are not so obvious unless you examine the inside. This barn is in good shape. It looks like the owner has been working on it.

This barn has all but lost any internal structure.

Usually, dry rot or termites are culprit.

A combination of outside elements and serious, internal decay is the death knell of a barn, sometimes collapsing it altogether from both sides.

Families are similar to barns and other structures. In Grant Wood's American Gothic, the couple in the foreground impeccably resembles the farmhouse in the background: straight, sturdy, symmetrical.

Sometimes little things can indicate dry rot in a family. For every semblance of rigidity in this portrait, the artist chose to display a fallen, but telltale lock of hair. 

That is one of the reasons I love Sodium of Franklin, Tennessee. Nathan Estes, his wife, and their team have discerned the telltale signs of family erosion and have created a family coffee house, an exponentially larger layout of the family home, the "third option" for families who have no other place to go as a family without incurring great expense.

The family in Franklin, Tennessee, is limping through dire times. The cost of living is frighteningly high despite a recession that promises to be a decade long or more, putting families in jeopardy of losing their homes, closing their small businesses, or filing for bankruptcy. Jobs in real estate, education, marketing, finance, and entertainment industries are being down-sized on a frequent basis, increasing unemployment and leaving others out of work long enough to incur weighty debt. It has even been argued that like our nation, one out of eight people in Franklin, Tennessee go without regular meals. 

Economic problems have ramped up pressures upon the family breadwinners, forever increasing activity while diminishing productivity. The result has been anxiety-driven patterns of high-functioning behavior resulting in certain lacks: lack of money, lack of sleep, lack of nutrition, lack of exercise, lack of enjoyment, lack of humor, lack of family love, lack of purpose. 

It has also resulted in increases: increase of spousal arguments surrounding money, increase of domestic violence, increase of prescription drugs, increase of controlled substance use, increase of infidelity, increase of divorce, increase of flight, and an increase of stress-related suicide.

Considering these realities, Nathan Estes has put his finger on the problem that many local churches or charities have yet to realize: the home is no longer a haven. It is a place where bills are paid (or unpaid). It is the place where the utilities get turned off. It is the place where collection notices go. It is the place of the empty refrigerator. It is the place of the unused bed. It is the place of frequent arguments. It is the place with the carpet that has been worn from the incessant pacings back and forth during what used to be sleeping hours. It is a bombshell waiting to go off.

Escape seems to be the only short-term option to alleviate stresses related to the home. Dad can run off to the bar or office with his buddies. Mom can run off to the coffee shop or restaurant with her friends. The children can play at the neighbors, participate in an after-school program, join some extra-curricular activity. Nathan's solution is to have the family escape together. That is Sodium.

Sodium is a family community center created by a family for families. Designed to promote the integrated health of the family, Sodium is a hub where families can participate in activities that span the spectrum of the pensive to the aerobic. Sodium has it all, from a kids coral where your little one can run, and climb and socially interact within a safe environment while you observe from a chair in the coffee shop, sipping a latte. Your older children can play on the signature climbing wall, play ping-pong with friends, play pool, dance in front of the stage to the interactive video on the giant screen, join in an art class, or do homework on the couches. 

Dad can participate, too. Dad can sit with mom on the couches together or at a table together to talk and to relax. Dad can instruct the kids on how to shoot a pool ball, how to hit a ping-pong ball, how to climb to the climbing wall, help his child with homework, and even order inexpensive but delicious New York-style pizza for the family from Brother's Pizza (another service Sodium provides).

Sodium offers family classes on various topics, birthday parties, and rental of its facilities for fundraisers and other group initiatives. I recently went to Sodium for an adoption fundraiser which was a well-spent Sunday afternoon with my family. Sodium recently hosted a fundraiser for a child with cancer, which proved to be an outstanding success and unforgettable experience for all parties involved (Both fundraisers mentioned raised sizable donations). In addition, Sodium is a concert and entertainment venue, streamlined, again, for the entire family.

Nathan and I sat down recently to talk about the absolute necessity of visions like Sodium. For years, people will be talking about the Nashville Flood of 2010, an event that was bound to happen to anyone within a 100-year period. But it happened to us.

For many of us, this is what it looked like up close.

Help Sodium stop a similar thing from happening to our families. Sodium is in dire need of donations to stem the recessional tide for the months of May and June 2011.  Trusts, charities, and local churches, you should consider investing in this vital community asset. And don't take much time to consider!

Contact Nathan Estes at 615.591.1818 to give your volunteer and financial support. To learn more about Sodium and to make a donation through their site, go to

To conclude, listen to Nathan's vision:

Thursday, April 28, 2011


At times we find it necessary to summon all our nerve to escape a potentially bad situation or to deflect wrath directed at us. On a subway in Chicago once, a gang walking behind me started yelling insults. It took everything within me not to walk faster or run outright. While considering how I could extricate myself without getting a hole in the back of my head, some people in front of me freaked and started running. That ended up being my saving grace (so I didn't make a fool out of myself). The gang behind me started laughing at the havoc they caused. 

Oh, it was funny afterwards, but the moment something alarming like that happens, your heart rate thinks differently than your brain rate. Some of us deflect badly. Some of us are smooth. Others of us find ourselves paralyzed in situations that promise all kinds of doom. Whatever your situation, you might find it helpful to know that deflection is an art and that you can become better at it with practice. I have learned a few “decoys” most everyone has at their disposal to make themselves "invisible" when necessary.

1. Cell Phones. Not everyone has a cell phone, but I have found the cell phone to be the right decoy in many awkward situations. Transitioning from the European custom of staring an absolute stranger in the eye to the American custom of eye avoidance altogether was a difficult one for me to make (and still is sometimes). It wasn’t until I came to the States for college that I learned that looking someone in the eye (who did not want to be looked at by you) was equivalent to casually slapping the butt of a stranger.

I have made this mistake many times (though I intended no ill-will) and have been "mad-dogged" in return (mad-dogging is when you make eye contact with someone who takes it as an insult and wants to "start something"). I have found use of my cell phone to be antidotal in avoiding unpleasant confrontations with certain people who want to discuss "why" I looked at them. If you find yourself in this situation, use (or modify) the following to your benefit (and eventual escape). As the mad dogger approaches, casually put your cell phone to your ear:

“What you talking about ‘I’m gonna give you my money later’? You know what I did to you last time! You want some?”

Pause (as the mad-dogger is five to ten feet from you, presumably trying to get your attention, slow your pace  ever so slightly to infer you are completely unaware that he is irritated with you).

“No, I’m gonna put a cap in your (insert whatever word you want), bro. You know I don’t play (insert whatever word you want) like that! I’ll pop you right here… What? Oh, now you cryin? What… I don’t want yo money. Imma take that five G's outta yo (insert whatever word you want), that's what I'm talkin 'bout.”

Slow down even more to a casual swag, looking at the ground, agitated. Once you've passed the mad-dogger shoulder-to-shoulder (he might be muttering insults or he might be standing there waiting for you to get off the phone), you have essentially won, because he is respecting your space. Don't look up at him, especially not in the eyes. Push your luck just a little.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. You gonna give me your car. And what else you gonna give me? Yeah, you gonna give me my nine. Yeah, and I'm gonna take care of your boyz, too...."

Once you are a safe distance away, turn the corner and take off. Don't even take a moment to laugh.

2. Ignorance. If you are in the direct line of fire of someone you want to avoid, do not look away from him or look down at your feet. That is a sure sign that you are avoiding in which case you might incur more wrath. Rather, use the principle of empathy: stare directly at his forehead. This is particularly unnerving and serves two purposes. 

First of all, the person you are trying to avoid will try to look at what you are looking at only to realize that he cannot look at his forehead. However, because he is human and must follow the rule of empathy, he will keep trying to look at what he does not realize to be his forehead.

Secondly, he will become so obsessed with trying to empathize with you that it might give you some time to lose yourself in a crowd. As he is moving towards you, he has little time to "figure it out" and, instead, might just give up out of perplexity or embarrassment and leave you alone. It is important, however, that you begin looking at his forehead from the time that you recognize him to be in your line of oncoming traffic.

3. Premption. On my way to teach gymnastics in Florida one early Saturday morning in 1997, I was stopped by a red light on Michigan & Palafax where some rowdy youth were standing on each of the four mediums of the intersection with large paintbuckets (very optimistic), shaking the buckets at drivers in order to intimidate them into giving money (the sign on the bucket they shook at me announced they were raising money for sport jerseys). The traffic was backed up and they were headed to my car eventually, so I preempted a confrontation.

“What are you selling?” I beckoned to the lead guy who was over six feet with a lean build and a cocky swagger. They jogged over to me, thinking I was interested.

“Nothin.” He shook the bucket at me.

“I have a penny.” I responded. Lead man looked at the guy who was with him and started cussing me out without directly looking at me. I knew I had him (He was no longer the salesman).

"You see the car wash over there?" He looked. I knew I had him because he looked.

“You wash my car and I’ll give you a dollar." That completely deflated him, and he was about to walk away until he saw that traffic was moving and I with it. Now he posted up like he would take me down, and I let him have his few seconds of fame as he creatively denounced my character, my car, my, family, my clothes, his voice getting fainter and fainter the farther I pulled away.

I only propose preemption on people you know you might be able to deflect with minimal painful confrontation like door-to-door salesmen ("Hey, I knew a guy who used to work for your company who went to jail for money-laundering and statutory rape.") or door-to-door missionaries (The last Jehovah's Witness to come to my door was a Black man trying to convert me. I had just finished reading Michael Jackson's autobiography MOONWALK and his official biography, so I asked him to explain to me how his Church could excommunicate MJ over the release of the THRILLER video and wasn't that extreme? He knew nothing about that topic, and went to see if my neighbor was home) and people you don't know who typically approach you at gas stations (I am sure I have offended a good many people at gas stations, but I have watched way too many episodes of UNSOLVED MYSTERIES to entertain people I do not know).

So deflection is an art and can be learned and improved upon. Of course, I am not as clever as I pretend to be. I've been "deflected" too. I was a security guard for a summer at my college, and a man came walking through the front gate. I could tell he was European by his dress and a tourist (he had a camera). I approached him to offer him a visitor’s pass. He hadn't seen me until I was almost on him. Startled, he went into an epileptic seizure. Now, I was on the defensive and was trying to find out what was wrong with him and how I could help him. He signaled to me that he needed water which I got him. 

Then he was fine. He walked on campus, and snapped some pictures. I have often wondered if he was playing possum because he didn't know what to do when he turned around and I was in his face. Maybe he thought I was going to rob him. Maybe he was trying to buy himself some time to figure out how to escape me, I am not sure. All I know is that he certainly recovered faster than any epileptic I've ever seen. I'm also sure he got some awesome pictures.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I used to think that the majority of high school and college graduates who did not leave the house would not or could not leave because Mom & Dad's house was just too comfortable. I made that assumption because I assumed that parents who made home uncomfortable for their children raised kids who wanted to leave the house. 

Parents who maintain the same relational equidistance between their children and themselves at age 18 that they had with each other at age 0 tend to raise dependent children who will remain emotionally dependent upon Mom and Dad indefinitely. I know of a 40+ year old man who lives in the basement of his parents' house. That is not the bad thing: he still has to observe his parents' rules. And stupid, senseless rules. And he does. Every once in a while he asserts himself by leaving the house unannounced between the hours of 6 and 9 p.m. much to the delight of his parents (they thought he was "growing" up), but he comes back when he falls upon hard times, each time becoming more and more accustomed to his 0-year-old self. Now he lives at home and can take care of Mom and Dad by taking out their trash on rainy days and washing their car on non-rainy days. What a "helper" he is.

Some parents (especially controlling mothers and fathers) cannot ever imagine having a mature relationship with their children (mainly because they consider it to be disrespectful). This is no lie, I have actually heard of 20-something-year-old daughters who are not allowed to move out of the house unless their parents give them permission to marry. Further, I have heard of fathers and/or mothers restricting their 20-something daughters, and even spanking or striking them for "disobedience." 

Other parents are more subtle. They punish their children by silence, by ignoring them, by actively not being supportive of their budding independence and all because the child wanted to make a decision not scripted by his parents. I have a friend whose parents are a part of a sectarian Christian group. She wanted to attend a particular college, and the parents stopped speaking with her. She married an amazing man, and the parents refused to come to the wedding. She recently had a beautiful baby boy, and the parents still have not made a move towards her. 

Do you know what would please her parents (if anything will)? If she gave up her child, divorced her husband, gave back her college degree, and came home crawling on hands and knees or in any penitent form they prescribed. This dear lady is not allowed to have a life approved by her parents (And her parents are under the impression that they "glorify" God each day of the week because their miserable lives are wasted away in their little, exclusive church where women still wear bonnets and men pretend they don't like beer). 

It seems that a key ingredient to raising healthy children is the incremental but dramatic change that happens between parents and children over time. Child rearing can essentially be described as raising a child to maturity or peerage. Children who mature to adulthood and never leave the house or who keep coming back to the house were never raised to be emotionally independent of their parents, whether or not the parents were permissive or controlling. If independence is not central to child rearing, then child rearing seems to me to be a clever way to raise slaves. 

If you liken the raising of a child to the birth of a baby, it should make perfect sense why a baby does not leave the womb of its own volition. True, he or she is quite warm, quite comfortable, quite fine in the such cozy surroundings. It is only when contractions begin that the baby, initially distressed, is coaxed out into the land of the living. Sometimes quickly. Sometimes for hours. Sometimes much longer.

No. If grown children are not ever made to leave home, it is not a problem with the child. It is a problem with the womb.


The first time I ever heard about breakdancing, I was living in England and was at the house of a friend for an evening. Graham Ballard, an English kid who lived down the street, was trying to describe to a group of us about a recent American dance he could only describe as the "shock." He was actually trying to ferret out of us more information about the dance. But because nothing he said or demonstrated rung a bell, we had no idea what he was talking about. We were amused at his assumption, too, certain that Americans would not invent a dance so aimless.

We quickly learned that not only did the dance originate in America, but that we American kids were expected to know all of the intricacies of the dance. This I learned while I attended a little church in Lechlade that was held in a village "hall" (which was used as a dance club on Sunday nights. Many a Sunday morning my father would take us to church early in order to mop up spilled beer and puke before the services began). A group of English kids were always lurking around before or after church services with their "boom boxes", blaring the latest of Grandmaster Flash, Run DMC, and the Sugar Hill Gang. These British kids, we learned, wanted to challenge us Americans to a breakdance battle. To figure out who was best. To vindicate each other's country.

At least amongst the British and American kids, this cultural rivalry existed. Whenever things got heated between us, whenever disagreements loomed, whenever tempers flared, the subject incessantly came about that America was a renegade colony, that America originated from England, that America had no business having troops in England, and (in general) who did we think we were? This was especially true on July 4th when we typically rented English facilities to have our July 4th picnics (We caustically referred to July 4th as "Independence Day"). We were constantly asked by the British who walked the green what we were celebrating, and we would respond with an air of superiority ("We are celebrating our independence from the English" which always resulted in words back and forth and one time resulted in my good friend, Robbie Perez, throwing his hotdog at an Englishwoman. She told him he was "cheeky" a conclusion I agreed with). 

So even though it was 1983, the breakdance battle was about 1776. We used to visit a military outpost called Little Rissington which seemed the equivalent to low-income housing. My parents made friends with a family (she was Italian, he was Black) who had three wild boys. Because their parents had marriage problems, we visited them often, being made to leave the house while they were counseled (I figured out what at least a part of their marriage problem was rather quickly, because the boys revealed to us kids that their father had a three-feet high collection of The Sun newspapers in an upstairs closet. The Sun was notorious for featuring nude women on page two. Or three. I cannot remember, haha). The boys would take us to the "rough" areas of Little Rissington where we observed breakdancing from gritty Army kids. It was here that my brother and I learned the art of fluid body-popping, machine-accurate robotic motion, and floor moves like backspins, "scrambling", and windmills.

We showed up our English counterparts. What we did not realize was that the British kids wanted to beat us at breakdancing, at our own national past-time. We thought beating them fair and square would end the rivalry once and for all, but it didn't. They incessantly worked at it until they got better and better and even invented moves we could not easily imitate. They eventually put a kid against us who had a mean headspin (He was an American living with his English mother, so we didn't think it counted and considered him to be traitor). To be quite honest, I was happy when our church moved from Lechlade to Langford. Langford was a proper chapel with its own graveyard and a quiet road. The only thing we had to worry about were the rowdies stumbling out of the bar down the street (one of its inebriated regulars flashing one our church members).

Over twenty-five years later as I look back on old-school breakdancing, I am intrigued at how very Modern it was. It imitated industrialized culture by an infatuation with hydraulic motion, robotic movement, and wave theory. Precise mechanical imitation and the most number of rotations exploited from an efficient move were two basic criteria for determining the best breakdancers. One overriding, cultural criteria seems to be that you have to be a member of an industrialized culture in order to appreciate or properly execute the dance. The impetus of the dance came from industrial culture. I watched a kid from Liberia recently who fancied himself a Hip-Hop dancer. He gave about sixty of us a demonstration of Liberian Hip-Hop. I could not tell the difference between what he showed us and the many tribal dances I have seen on the National Geographic. Oh, but of course, much of Liberia has yet to join the ranks of industrial culture (and he had grown up in a refugee camp).

In the following clip check out the predictable circular motion of the floor moves. Notice the "waves" and "machining" of the popping moves. Also, notice how the breakers dance, synchronized to the music (not against it) indicating the staged or mechanistic choreography. Perhaps, the most obvious Modern, industrial convention is that the dancers are spaced apart or "alienated" from each other at generous distances, but that they each act as little cogs in the wheel, contributing to the overall flow of the performance. 

Since the late 90's, breakdance fell out of media favor, giving way to more "disorganized" Hip Hop genres, eventually ending with the latest: crumping. Breakdancing was predictable and machinelike. Crumping defines itself by its impredictability and seeming absurdity. It is a quantum version of breakdance where each predictable dance move is exponentially sectioned into small portions and reframed into a stream of glitches, aesthetically imitating Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. In the crump documentary RIZE, it is said that no two Crump dances ought to look the same. Supposedly, the "ghetto ballet" was born out of the 1996 L.A., and clearly, crumping was in revolt against not only local oppression, but against the precision of its breakdancing ancestor (Youtube breakdancing vs. crumping, and you will see that the two Hip-Hop dances have no love for each other). 

Undoubtedly in England right now there is a crump battle going on between British and American kids. Undoubtedly in England right now there are American kids rehearsing crump moves in the bathroom mirror so they can "represent" the American culture to its British ancestor. Undoubtedly in England right now some America kid is obsessed with the outcome of the next battle he has, hoping to have a breakthrough so that he can end the rivalry once and for all. 

But it won't end that way. It will only end once you reframe the relationship, the rivalry, altogether. One thing we American kids did in the 1980's which diffused the situation tremendously was that we routinely played football (soccer) with the British kids on the weekends. Football, being an English national pasttime, belongs to the British, and they owned us at it every Saturday we played them. Interestingly, our humiliation and utter inferiority at the sport actually was some of the only times we ever experienced sympathy from the English youth. 

A shout-out to my friend and mentor Wayne Headley, founder of the first Canadian pop-locking crew (Wayne lower right). And a shout-out to everyone who creatively resolves their problems. Leave a message if you have a unique experience about conflict-resolution!

Friday, April 22, 2011


Restraint is not descriptive of the Southerner (as in "Because the Southerner showed restraint, the Soviet Union of America was founded in 1861"). Southerner and restraint are also not synonymous (as in "Show some restraint. He was only asking you a question. Now you got blood all over his shirt"). Additionally, the Southerner does not typically use the word restraint in everyday language (as in "Restraint yourself, or I'll do it for you").

Southern animosity towards "restraint" laws is perfectly normal. Hearing about it and seeing it, however, result in two completely different perspectives. Years ago, a young boy lost his arm to a shark on a beach in a Southern state. The uncle jumped into the surf, wrestled the shark onto the beach, carved it open with a sizable knife that he happened to have with him, and retrieved his nephew's arm. A friend of mine from California was talking to me over the phone about it, nervously asking if the story was true. I told him "Down here they take care of personal matters like that themselves and then call 911 afterwards. Just to log it in. If they remember."

If you take the Southern position on the War of Northern Aggression into consideration, what makes you think your average Southern gentleman will be fine with the enforcement of seatbelt restraint laws? In my thirteen years of having lived in Tennessee, I have had thousands of conversations with Southern gentlemen about their views on self-restraint vs. governmental restraint. It is literally a daily occurrence, naturally weaving itself into conversation like common use of the word "the." Just two days ago I met with a Southern gentleman at Starbucks and the subject of oppression came up even before our formal greeting was complete. Afterwards I met with another Southern gentleman at a pub, and our meal was guided by the subject of oppression and the means of dealing with it. No matter the differences in conversational nuance, I find many of these topics to naturally sprout from the same seed of a fierce independence unique to the Southern.

Take the seatbelt law, for example. Many of my Southern gentleman friends will tell me they are quite adept (and 99.9% successful) at putting on their own belts to hold up their pants. However, they do it out of self-respect and respect for their neighbor. Seriously. I know this sounds a moralistic way to view the simple topic of a belt, but there is not much you can talk about with a Southern gentleman if it is not bracketed by a framework of manners. I've seen this aspect of the Southern gentlemen replicated so badly by Hollywood that I have interrupted many a movie to protest "That's not what a Georgian looks like" or "That's not the way an Alabamian sounds" or "Are they talking about the South or southern Uzbekistan?" If you denigrate manners or are dismissive of it, chances are you have not met nor will you ever make friends with a true Southern gentleman. 

A Southern gentleman finds it hard and almost absurd to think antithetically about wearing his belt. That is to say, it is foreign to a Southern gentleman to wear his belt because he has been ordered to wear his belt first. If the demand comes first, it undermines the entire concept of self-respect and respect for others. That would be an illusion, a dead letter if ordered under threat of compulsion. I have known many a Southern gentleman to not wear belts or socks on certain days or to show up late to work on certain others or to skip church once every few weeks for no other reason than that they can. This behavior can hardly be called inconsistent. It is the Southern gentleman flexing volition.

I have learned much about Southern culture through many fine Southern gentlemen, three of whom I would like you to meet:

Will Matheny has been my good friend for thirteen years. Hailing from Virginia, Will is fiercely independent (with an emphasis upon "is"). Will is a college graduate of Oxford. Will has worked contractual law in the music industry. Will owned his own newspaper company. Will has run his own eatery. Will owns his own restaurant. Will makes his own recipes (with desserts that have caught the attention of foodies up in NYC). 

Will was also constable of Williamson County (the richest county per capita in the U.S.). Will also sits on his porch and smokes. Will also will down deer from his front porch while he is smoking, processing the deer meat himself and cooking it up in his kitchen. Many a time I have dropped in on Will to find him processing dove sausage, panfrying hamburgers, or simmering venison dip for stew. Many times I have left his kitchen with bloody packages of meat. Gifts.

Will was also one of the first fathers to sign his younger boy up for my school in 2000, keeping him with me for two years. Will also was with me the day my wife and I buried our miscarried child, Francis, out in Maury County (He helped dig the grave). Will also brought countless dinners over to my house when business was slow. My children call him "Uncle Will", and he has paid out of his own pocket for five of my children to have free lunches at their school for four years (He won't hear about us paying for it). 

I have awakened Will as late as midnight and as early as 5:30 A.M. to speak with him about concerns ("Dammit, Robbie, go to sleep."), and yet he still answers the phone, groggily encouraging or chastising me. One time at my school, Will came to pick his boy up and saw two men at the edge of the woods which bordered my school. Will approached them with his hand on the pistol in the back waistband of his pants. The men were nervous as Will approached. They ended up being government surveyors, but Will would have none of it until they proved it. When they did, Will became conversational, took his hand off his gun, and the men relaxed, visibly relieved.

Randy Curtis has been my good friend for about twelve years. He has lived all over the South from Texas to Arizona to, I believe, Kentucky. Randy and I actually met at the weekly lectures of Michael Card (another fine, Southern gentleman) on Main Street in Franklin, Tennessee back in 1997. Randy, an ardent Southerner, would incessantly talk with me about intricate theological issues involving civil government and church structure. We have spent many hours on the phone, at a pub, around town (Haha, one time he ran into my wife and me in downtown Nashville on 21st Avenue, holding up traffic to find out how we were doing and to investigate some theological issue). Every so often, Randy will skip his Baptist church service to come find me at my Presbyterian church. 

Randy was the one who taught me how to prepare a garden for planting potatoes. He hoed the first two rows for me, instructing me the entire time. Then he had me do it while he observed from a lawn chair while drinking beer out of a coffee can, correcting me if I veered from his instructions at all (And he questioned me about my theological views, picking "this" and "that" apart until I needed a beer). Randy has come to my school during lunch to speak with me about his ever-growing concern for our nation. Randy even came to a school campout one night, dominating the conversation around the fire about interesting theological topics. I also remember that in that 28 degree weather (with a windchill), Randy slept away from the fire near the woods without a tent (I think he made a lean-to) where the coyotes were yipping.

Randy has also been concerned about racial reconciliation, being part of a group that met on Wednesdays to discuss such topics. He would occasionally call me up afterwards to talk to me about the topics that came up (He particularly got concerned when the topic of reparations came up). He would always appeal to our model of friendship which was the fact that our families knew each other, he loved my kids like his own, and while we do not share the exact same emphasis upon religious beliefs, he would do anything he could to take care of my family. (Just recently, Randy wore me out with his concern over Rob Bell and his new book. We spoke about it for three hours on a Saturday. Over the phone. In four phone conversations. I finally had to go because I needed to take a soak in the tub and felt inappropriate talking about theology with my clothes off).

Derrick Clifton is a native of Tennessee and one of the most sophisticated, young, Southern gentlemen I know. Derrick has accomplished a ridiculous number of things in his short life from teaching school, to running a boys home, to opening his own restaurant, to working construction, to working security, to opening his own art gallery, to drawing portraits, to many many more jobs then I can recall (I think they professionally number over 35). And he has never been fired from one. 

What has amazed me about Derrick is that for being close to home and close to the heart of the Southern gentleman ideal, he has had many more experiences than people who travel the world and live from hotel room to hotel room. Derrick's catalog of interactions with well-known people are a mile long from his making Rosa Parks laugh until she almost cried (Haha, Rosa wanted to know how an all-black group of men on a hurricane relief trip were treating Derrick, and he told her fine except that they made him sit in the back of the bus) to his bouncing the Bobby Brown for jumping a man in the bathroom at a local concert (Hahaha, when Bobby Brown protested, telling Derrick he couldn't do that, Derrick casually replied "It's my prerogative"). 

Derrick and I have spent dozens of hours talking about the situation of the family and youth. His resume of experience in child psychology trumps most university profs I have met who read textbooks yet have little actual experience. And you know what? Derrick has not been wrong in any of the evaluations he has disclosed to me. Derrick has that uncanny, Southern ability to see things in terms of organic analogies or the "rule of the farm." I have been dismissive a time or two at its simplicity only to recant when a prediction had come startlingly true. Derrick also packs a gun and likes his beer and cigarettes. And he can cook. Extremely hospitable, Derrick has given me, no lie (and I calculate), at least two hundred hours of conversation in just under two years.

My use of the word "Southern gentlemen" is very specific. I am not speaking about a bigot or a stereotypical hillbilly or even someone who is merely oppositional to governmental regulation (though being a Southern gentleman does not preclude you from having a strain of any or all of these). A Southern gentleman is unique in that he finds it absolutely appropriate to pay for his "crime" as a fair exchange for the freedom to exercise his will. That was underscored for me when a well-known, country musician in my area wanted to cut down a few trees to extend his lakehouse. He was forbidden by the government to cut down the trees. He asked the government what the fine was. They told him $10,000 a tree, so he cut down the trees anyway and he also cut a check to the government for the full amount of his violation. 

If you physically harm a Southern gentleman's family, he will shoot you in the face and happily go to jail for it. If you cross the threshold of his property without revealing yourself, he will shoot you (That's what TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED means). Manners is the conduit of diplomacy for the Southern gentleman. If you do not observe manners (and if you do not reciprocate manners), you will surely pay for it. This Southern, Calvinistic custom contains more dread in it than any tactic a terrorist could come up with, for what is more terrible than a volitional breach that carries with it the knowledge that judgment will eventually come? That is pants-wetting, psychological terror with the added burden that you deserve it.

Perhaps, the best way I could put it is that a Southern gentleman reserves the right not only to not wear his seat belt, but he also reserves the right to pay (and even to die) for not wearing his seatbelt. Despite his concern over the "illegal", unjust tax increases, big businesses that squeeze the lifeblood out of generation-long, small businesses, none of my Southern gentlemen friends would have a problem with the following seat belt commercial or the sentiment it conveys.

To Southern gentlemen everywhere. And to seat belts. To life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


So a few days ago while going through the checkout line, I picked up a celebrity magazine (I didn't pick up a tabloid, because I wanted the truth, hahaha). Curious about the lives of celebrities other than the ones I know in Nashville, I thought I might find something interesting and enjoyable to blog about. I chose Weekly In Touch which looked like it might provide me rare and relevant information about people whose lives I don't share. Rather than pontificate about the magazine, I figured I would summarize its contents:

Pages 2-3, A contrast of four pairs of women who each (accidentally) wore the same dress, rating the winner of each pair according to how anemic they look without actually being (officially) dead (That would have disqualified them).

Page 4, An article on Britney Spears, her weight gain, and the oxymoron of the gap between her skinny, upper, inner thighs.

Page 5, An add for Veet lotion implying just how sexy you think you are when alone, enthralled with the silkiness of your skin which is supposed to affirm a kind of self-esteem that turns you more inward than you already are (in which case you won't need Veet because all you would have to do is to just think about how silky your skin is).

Page 6, An article on the Playboy Club and the contractual agreements adherents must sign, agreeing to "nudity" and "simulated sexual acts." One man signed the contract and intends to "keep his word" (which, I think, is supposed to be admirable) while his wife wants him to go back on his word (which is not admirable. Nor is it Christian).

Page 7, An Android advertisement of a girl hiding in a tree outside a young man's bedroom window, taking a photo of him as he is undressing. She (and, you, the reader) is amazed at the quality of the picture over, say, the inferior quality of the Iphone 3's photos.

Page 8, Autobios of three celebs (one whom I know), promising to reveal sordid stories about their private lives, inciting you to buy their books and invest in their lives while being divested of your very own.

Page 9, An Altoids advert implying that a gal with a butt that takes up most of the advert is going to seduce an Italian hottie on a scooter who looks bored (Oh, but he doesn't know what he's in for). 

Pages 10-16, Spreads of girls in skimpy bikinis with parts of their engineered boobs hanging out, celebs with their lovers at entertainment parks, a celeb eating popcorn and picking her teeth, one celeb father "lovingly" carrying his son (Were he carrying a sack of flower in the same way, it could be characterized as "loving," too).

Page 17, A BlueCross BlueShield advert with sexy couples and their children in color-coordinated clothing who don't look like they need insurance, yet look perfectly elated that they have it.

Pages 18-19, A celeb's sad life surrounding her lack of romantic interest in her [scientologistic] husband who orders her [through Scientology's signature mind control only reserved for members] to strike poses that imply they are in some sort of superior, alien "love". Contrasted with her interest in a man (who is not her husband) and how he brings out the "best" in her (that is to say, he is not a Scientologist).

Page 20-21, Katy Perry's relational problems with her movie-star husband and how their relationship (despite millions of dollars) is "hard" and how much they "try" to "connect" with each other despite "career paths" that take them to "different" continents. This was a personal tear-jerker as I accidentally poked my eye with the corner of the magazine.

Page 22, A spread of the children of celebs in little, cute bikinis. Little, cute boys hitting on older chicks, and little, cute girls snuggling with their little, cute boyfriends and who in five years time will be having little, cute sex with each other.

Page 23, A Koolaid advert with a bunch of kids sticking their nasty tongues out at the camera.

Page 24, Angelina Jolie's secret tattoo and the implications it might have for you, the recession, and the world.

Page 25-26, A new ADHD medicine Intuniv which is supposed to give your child such a low that, according to the picture, your child just might love you again. The drug is so effective that he also might do anything that you suggest from playing soccer to taking off his clothes in the middle of the street.

Page 27, An article on ginger-bearded men and how delicious they look.

Page 28-29, Courteney Cox's divorce drama with a photo spread of her in the water at the beach with a man who is not her husband. By the way Courteney's bikini barely fits her. I recommend that she should probably start eating again. It's been almost two years.

Pages 30-31, Scarlett Johansson's leaving of her husband and her simultaneous crush on Sean Penn who, 24 years older than her, is flattered but not interested (What great godly character to refuse, Sean. By the way, I hate your commercials).

Pages 32-35, The cover story of a hot couple who have marriage problems because the wife wants to run off to Las Vegas, get publicly intoxicated, and make out with women as a way to relieve stress caused by untold pressure like her sucking on Dancing with the Stars. Oh, but she loves her child, and it looks like her toddler might love her back. Oh, and her husband was so angry with his wife that he made out with someone he didn't even like. Now they are even. Wonderful.

Page 36, Mila Kunis' infatuation with James Franco. How free-spirited she is (which is a positive thing because it contains the word "spirit") and what a great job she did making out with another woman in Black Swan.

Page 37, An Allegra advert for "prescription strength" allergy medicine, which means that when things get hard (like hay fever or depression), take two.

Page 38-41, A four-page spread about how one celeb has the most amazing body in Hollywood even though she barely weighs 100 pounds. She must be a model, because all of her pictures are of her in a child's bikini playing with a beach ball,  now playing with yet another beach ball, now posing next to her sisters (whom she makes look fat), now posing with her mother (who makes her look like a fetus).

Pages 42-43, A formerly, portly celebrity loses enough weight to fit into her wedding dress. Her fiance is so sad now that her boobs have disappeared.

Pages 44-47, A spread on teen mothers who through slutty behavior got children they didn't really want but whom they love so much. They are doing what they can for their children (including sleeping with men they don't know).

Pages 48-49, A spread on Country music with a photo of Steven Tyler singing Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" with Carrie Underwood. Tyler tried to French Kiss her after the song, but Carrie substituted the actual French Kiss for the more platonic "Air Kiss." Underwood is Christian. And [Evangelical Christianity 101] Christians never kiss people who are not their spouses, and if they do, they were "led" to do it (so it's still OK).

Page 50, A spread on my neighbors the Judds. I won't comment, except to say that I have found Winona to be enjoyable in conversation and Ashley to be cordial (but aloof). But nice I am sure. And their mother is a dear. I have been told (I have not met her). Nor might I ever. I've lived here for 13 years and she hasn't talked to me once. Maybe I should ask her out. Of course, not, shame on you for even suggesting it. I am married. And she is like 70.

Page 51, An advert on Fat Foam which is supposed to cover gray hair, making it look so sexy that guys want to make out only with your hair.

Pages 52-55, A spread on several celebs, the most prominent one of Lady Gaga crowd surfing with her fans whom she loves so much. The crowd loves her back I can tell, because they are groping all of the strange parts of her body. Now that is devotion.

Pages 56-57, An article on couponing. I actually found this interesting and realized that I could have saved on this magazine by not buying it in the first place.

Pages 58-59, An article on celeb style, which from the photos indicates that you must be between 50 and 92 pounds to qualify, you have to have artificially colored hair, artificially implanted boobs, an artificial smile, and an artificial life.

Pages 60-61, Contrasts of celebs with before-and-after hair styles, their new ones somehow magically putting a smile on their gaunt faces, making it seem that they just had a significant religious conversion from nothingness to some kind of somethingness (which is probably a superior Nothingless, but who's to say?).

Pages 62-64, An article on a homosexual couple who have adopted twins. The article is mostly about how their house is metrosexually furnished. Written from the bisexual perspective of a jealous heterosexual.

Page 65, An advert for potato chips and how they bring people together (Seriously. You should try it). And how chips might be the answer to the recession problem (if you just eat enough of them your self-esteem will hit the "global baseline" which means that everyone in the world will stop caring about the exact same things at the exact same time).

Pages 66-67, A spread on popular film and television shows that all, quite honestly, look boring and superfluous except the one on Khloe Kardashian & Lamar (Newlyweds) and the step-by-step process they took to decide on, get this, having a baby. The world needs to hear this (at all costs), because how to have a baby is a national secret.

Pages 68-69, A spread on pregnant women. Paris Hilton is allegedly pregnant and Britney Spears still can't trim the fat from her last pregnancy. We are supposed to pray for them, I think, because pregnancy is right up there with bulimia and anemia. And there is no cure for it. It is chronic. It keeps happening. Someone, please, help our women.

Page 70, Horoscopes laced with skinny women which means that 2011 will be a scarce year for everyone.

Page 71, An advert for Fastin a weight loss drug you are probably more apt to buy on page 71 than you would have been on page 14.

Pages 72-73, A random array of randomness with a picture of a lady who lost 34 pounds and now, for some strange reason, is doing better in life (at least in the position she is standing).

Pages 74-75, Style tips of what not to wear or people won't think you are sexy. By the way, you do want people to think you are sexy else you are not real in which case you now have "existential" issues and need to see a psychologist (a real one).

Pages 76-77, A Sudoku and Crossword Puzzle and two photos of a What's Missing? featuring stars from Glee asking you to find what is missing (self-esteem or virginity don't count).

Pages 78-79, Can you match the celeb parent with the child? The Black kid and Black parent are easy to figure out, but I don't know about the others.

Page 80, Making fun of successful people like Chris Brown, and Charlie Sheen. No one understands these men. No one understands that beating women is an act of love. Not aggression. It looks like aggression to us unenlightened people. If we just could somehow be Sheen and Brown, we would understand perfectly. Until then, never.

Last Page, A tampon advert. I think the implication is that everyone needs one by the time they finish the magazine.

I was prevented from thoroughly browsing the magazine by the leaky diaper of my youngest daughter, by my wife's inquiry about what she should make for dinner, by my children's incomplete homework, and by my broken drier (leaving me loads of wet clothes to hang up around the house). I was thinking that I might liposuction the thinking part of my brain, botox my abs, and wear a stylish Kanye kerchief. Any more suggestions on how I can develop the compassion needed to empathize with my Hollywood friends?

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