Saturday, December 27, 2008

When Hackers Ruled the World

I don't know why but this article about a guy who tried to take over all the hacking industry (um... i'm not sure this is what it's called) really fascinated me. Check it out if you've ever had your credit card stolen or feared credit card theft.

This man has a gift, a talent, a joy. it's just that it happens to manifest itself as criminal activity. The crazy part is, I always thought credit cards were stolen by pickpocketers. I'm so naive. This article is nuts.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

'Twas the Night Before Christmas... at the Pittman's

'Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse
(neither were the squirrels in the attic but that's another story)

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that St. Nicolas soon would be there;

Little Emily was nestled all snug in her bed,
While visions of iPhones danced in her head;

Carol in her jammies, and Mike in his cap
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
I sprang from the couch to see what was the matter.

Away past the window I flew like a flash
Tore open the door by where coats are all stashed;

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But my sister, Amy, and her doggy so dear,

With a giant, spry labrador, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment that it wasn't St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles my dog also came,
And we whistled, and shouted, and called them bad names;

"Now, Sophie! now, Janie! now, stop that! Get down!
No barking! No jumping! Stop horsing around!

To the top of the couch! to the top of the wall!
They dashed away! dashed away! dashed away all!"

So all over house then the coursers they flew,
Drug their leashes behind, and their mommies too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the stair
The determined descent of the one with red hair.

As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the stairs Crazy Carol came with a bound.

A wink of her eye and a twist of her head,
Soon gave us to know we had nothing to dread;

She spoke not a word, but went straight to the fridge,
And pulled out two bones; then turned with a jerk,

And pointing her finger at the fighting canines,
And giving a nod, they sat on their behinds;

She sprang to the microwave, punched defrost, set the clock
And the tails they both swished liked they'd just hit the jackpot.

Then I heard her exclaim, ere she tossed them the bones..
Merry Christmas to all, and to family come home!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Vacation Day 1: Driving and Sleeping

But not behind the wheel, thank God.

When I left Austin, Texas it was 46 degrees. When I arrived in Wichita, Kansas it was 11 degrees. I lost about ten per state. And yes, it is cold. Uber cold.

Janie is pacing around the motel room. i can't tell if she's still checking the place out or just really has to pee. But it's so cold, I don't want to take her out again.

Ha! Now's she's stopped to look at herself in the full length mirror. Fabulous. My dog's a narcissist. Or just recognizes super duper cuteness when she sees it. One of the two.

The cats are probably shivering since I turned off the heat and... yes... left them in Austin. I know. I was teary when I pulled out of the driveway too. Anyone left in Austin over the holidays, feel free to go visit them. Even Satan's Little Helper gets lonely, you know. Clarence the wonder-neighbor is feeding them.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Toujours Tingo

Hilarious. Words we use. I mean, who knew there even was a sound that a grandfather clock makes right before it strikes and who knew we would need to name that sound?

I also like the word for the person chosen by a woman to tell her boyfriend she's broken up with him. You mean that happens outside of the sixth grade?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Loving God: A Sermon

No, Jesus cannot be your boyfriend.

I overheard a couple of young ministers talking once about the singles ministry at their church in podunctville, tx (I should have known the story was going downhill). He said that for Valentine’s day the ministry was throwing a "Jesus Is My Valentine" party.


No. No. No.

You may not throw a party with that title.

Bad theology. Bad gimmick. Bad idea.

What does that tell singles?
"No one wants you but Jesus... lucky you!"
"You're too ugly to get a real boyfriend, so you get Jesus!"
"That bit about a nice personality doesn't date well, but an invisible savior does!"

I can't believe we buy into that. Jesus is not our lover. Gross. He's a god, not a boyfriend. We don't snuggle up with God under a plush blanket and watch chick flicks. We don't get flowers from God. We don't kiss God good night. And we sure as hell don' know….

Yuck. Not to mention that if you call God "Him," you've got a bunch of single men calling God their Valentine. So I guess homosexuality isn’t an issue for conservatives anymore?

Okay, I know. I've crossed the line. It's just that I hate that crap. I hate feel-good, cheesy, substitute-Jesus-for-what-culture-says-I'm-lacking-in crap. It's not right.

Yes, Jesus loves you.
Yes, people love you.
Yes, you are okay single and alone.
Yes, it sucks that your friends are being mushy with their significant others and you're going to watch your 159th rerun of Sex in the City. But it's all good. I love Sex in the City.

So if that’s not what it means to love God, what does it mean? What does it mean to love Jesus?

Jesus tells us during his ministry that the greatest commandment is to love God. He pulls from the ancient Jewish code to Love God as well. You can see those scriptures posted on the wall. So what does loving God look like? What does that mean? Jesus elaborates by saying that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor, so perhaps loving our neighbors is a fleshing out of what it means to love God.

But it seems to me that somewhere in between Jesus is my boyfriend and I love God through social justice, there has to be a middle ground.

In the Christmas story, the magi, the astrologers, the three kings, whatever you want to call them showed up at Jesus’ playpen with three fantastic and expensive gifts. They were the intellectuals of their day using reason and science to get to the baby King. The shepherds were there before them though, travelling with their sheep, their livelihood, perhaps in fear from the appearance of the angels, perhaps in awe of something so full of love that even shepherds could get a slice of it. There were also the devout religious people who greeted the baby. And although we don’t include them in our nativity scenes, Simeon and Anna spent hours in prayer, pouring over scripture, waiting for the appearance of the messiah only to have him placed in their arms. All these people, the scholars, the blue-collar workers, the religious fanatics, all journeyed in their own way to see the child-king.

What was their motivation?

What is ours?

Is the answer love?

While I don’t tend to get along well with the types of people who put this on their car and while we all still manage to anger each other in traffic, I can appreciate the bumper sticker: “real men love Jesus.” According to Society in 2008 Men are supposed to be strong, financial providers, hard-hearted. They don’t like chick flicks, they don’t cry at funerals and they sure as hell don’t get all mushy about God. So while I would never date a man with this bumper sticker on his car, I appreciate the counter-cultural nature of it’s text: I can surrender, I can let down my guard, I can admit that I am weak, I can admit I can’t do this on my own, I know I need a Savior… Real Men Love Jesus.

Real men love their wives too. They understand that when Jesus hollers at the Pharisees when they ask him about divorce: “should the woman serve the papers, or can just a man divorce his wife, blah, blah, blah;” what Jesus is really telling the Pharisees is, “it doesn’t matter!” What does matter is that the Pharisees are missing the whole point of love. While the law is concerned with rules, God is concerned with the heart. So who cares who serves who the divorce papers? “Don’t even look at a woman lustfully,” Jesus says. Because at the root of the issue is love, not the law. Before there is divorce there is adultery. Before there is adultery there is lust. Before there is lust, there is a heart and mind that views women as objects. This is an issue of the heart, Jesus says.

So what motivates you?

What’s in your heart?

It’s pretty easy to love a baby boy in a manger, but as Carley Bobby says in Talladega Nights, “Jesus did grow up.” So what does it mean to wrestle with the idea that a God became a man? What does it mean to love a God who asks us to pray for our enemies? What does it mean that God died on a cross and in doing so supposedly wiped away our sin? Does it make you grateful? Teary-eyed? Or just confused?

Sometimes it’s easier to feed a homeless person than it is to accept the idea that God loves you.

Sometimes it’s easier to donate all your giftedness to the church: singing in choirs, going to Sunday school, buying presents for Angel Tree children than it is to explore what it means to live completely surrendered and dependent on God.

Sometimes it’s easier to memorize all the stories and know all the answers and heck maybe even some of the questions too than it is to admit that your life is changed, that your heart is changed because of your relationship with Jesus Christ.

I don’t know where that leaves us except in a place of mystery. And so this holiday season I pray that in the baby you will experience the wonder, mystery and joy of God becoming like us. And as that baby grows into a child, so will your relationship with Him grow as you learn God’s character and begin to model it in your own life. And the child grows into a teen and you begin to take greater steps yourself, steps of spiritual discipline, challenging yourself to grow. And the teen becomes a man and suddenly you realize that man who will die on a cross is as fragile as your own humanity and yet it is infused with God and on God you will both rely, live and eventually die. Greater love has no man than this that he would lay down his life for a friend and so Jesus did as well. For a friend, for a dream, for a kingdom. And now it’s our turn to love so deeply, so intimately that we would die to ourselves to live in Christ.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Christmas Sermon

I have a secret... I don't like Christmas.

Remember when you were a kid and you used to ask your friends, "What's your favorite holiday?" and then you'd quickly qualify it with "...Other than Christmas." I heard myself asking someone that earlier this year and a thought blew threw my mind, "Actually Christmas isn't my favorite holiday." But I quickly identified it as heresy and as soon as it had appeared in my head it was gone.

After some hard speculation this week though, I've decided it's actually the case: Christmas is not my favorite holiday.

Now, Halloween, I love. Yes, the devils' holiday. The holiday some Christians won't even "celebrate" or acknowledge because it's so anti-Jesus or pro-Satan or something. I don't know. The Devil only showed up to one of my Halloween parties and he looked suspiciously like my friend Alysa Little, so quite frankly I'm not confident it was really him.

But I like Halloween. I like Halloween because you get to be creative and dress up and pretend you're someone you're not and everyone knows you're pretending because they're pretending too and it's not the kind of pretending you have to go to therapy over, it's just fun and it makes people laugh. And not only do you have the Princesses and the Super Heroes and the Cartoon characters but you've got the ghosts and ghouls and an occasional hobo. So I like Halloween; it’s well rounded.

But I’m starting to not like Christmas. Because at Christmas many people put up beautiful decorations all over their houses, their offices even sometimes their cars: silver bells and gold balls and red bows and draped greenery and shimmering lights and on and on and on. At my parents’ house each room is color coordinated. There's the gold room where the decorations are predominately gold or gold glitter. The bows are gold, gold stars are wrapped into the garland. It's the gold room. Likewise we have the pink and white room with the softer colored tree ornaments and the white ribbons and the pink poinsettias and the white angel on top of the tree. And finally there is the red room. Nutcrackers, ornaments, bows, ribbons, lights, bears, plants, all are decorated with white lights and red or complimentary to red... things.

And it is beautiful.


Every Christmas in high school and especially in college I would think of any excuse to have a party and invite friends over to see my house. It is breathtaking and homey with a fire in the fireplace and a family that gets along most of the time and cinnamon cider on the stove and delicious little delicacies in the oven...

It was great. And everyone always loved being there even if it was a little cold in that old drafty house.

But for some reason now I almost resent it. While I will appreciate the decorations, the house is beautiful without them. While I know churches work hard on putting together special music or dramas, I'd just as soon stick to a normal Sunday schedule. And my father knows I gave up on picking out "the perfect tree" years ago even when I lived in town and was able to attend that ritualistic family outing.

So why? Why isn't Christmas my favorite holiday anymore?

No, it's not because of commercialization. It's not because we spend a lot of money giving people we love presents. It's not because "the secular world" has taken over our "religious celebration." Please. Look at what we've stolen from them.

I think it's because I hate pretending.

But didn't you just say that Halloween is your favorite holiday because you get to pretend?

Yes. But we all know we're doing it.

What I hate about Christmas is the pretend perfection of it: the effort spent beautifying things that aren't inherently beautiful. The effort spent lighting up and decorating and lives when our souls remain hidden dully in darkness. The dressing up of what's down. I hate pretending when people pretend they aren't pretending. Glowing lights on your house doesn’t always mean you’re glowing on the inside. Finding the tallest fullest tree doesn’t fill up the emptiness in your heart. It makes me feel like I’m faking Christmas cheer.

I've never been one for living like that. When I was six I told my babysitter I hated the hamburger she made me for lunch and I did. It was a big fat hamburger (I evidently recognized I wasn't fond of meat at an early age) cooked and then placed on a slice of raisin bread. Seriously? Who puts a slab of beef on cinnamon raisin bread? Gross. So when she asked me if I liked it, I didn’t even try to pretend. “No,” I said.

This inability to "fake it" has carried with me.

Do you like wearing dresses? No.
Do you like Chemistry? No.
Do you like sexism? No.
Do you think racism is a good thing? No.
Do you think adultery is cool? No.
Do you think the porn industry should get tax breaks? No.
Do you think having a sweet little baby will solve a couple's marital issues? No.
Do you think a little baby Jesus will solve your salvation issue? No. No I don't.

I Don't.

I don't think you can decorate your depravity and sing happy songs about a baby being born and suddenly expect to have meaning in your life!

It's dishonest.

But maybe it’s a means to an end. If we sing about Jesus maybe we’ll start to believe in Jesus. If we dress up in pretty red velvet maybe we’ll start to feel pretty inside. Maybe not.

And so I’m having trouble getting into the carols and the costumes and the lights and the decorations… it feels too dishonest.

Maybe it'd be a little better if we hung hobo ornaments on our tree. Hung pictures of our broken families on our walls. Framed our divorce certificates and put our D+ test scores on the fridge. Maybe we could get a gift for that lump growing in mom's breast. Put an ankle bracelet on the snowman we rolled in our front yard - he's under house arrest, you know.

I hate that we put so much effort into making life beautiful that we miss the absolute ugliness of it.

Perhaps I'm bothered by this because it's actually in the ugliness that I find Jesus. In a feces-splattered, dark and dingy barn we find an exhausted mother and a father cleaning up afterbirth.

Last night on the tea bag I put into my mug full of hot water, I read, "Let things come to you."

"Please," I thought. “Nothing comes to you. You have to work hard for everything. Grades. Promotions. Relationships. Book deals. Physical health and beauty. Nothing comes to us. We have to go and get it.”

Grumpily, I passed my decorated palm plant and slumped down into the couch next to my decorated fake evergreen tree. I felt overwhelmed by the desire to make the world a better place in 2009 when Christmas is over and we look to New Year’s. Unfortunately, I completely lack the confidence to do so though, let alone the know-how. And then I realized I was wrong. Christmas and New Year’s and even Peace on Earth isn’t about that. I was wrong.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Jesus comes to us.

In a world that asks us to give give give to this charity, that organization, this board, that event, this church, that family...
In a world that expects us to work work work for happiness, for success, for money, for normalcy, work to be the best...

What if it's time to receive receive receive?

Stop pretending. Stop pretending that the pretty lights and the purple stoles and the gingerbread houses and the scented candles and the olive wood creches cover the stench of our lives... the stench of a stable.

And the receive the gift, the gift of salvation that started before there was a baby and a virgin, even before there was a prophecy and a people... a savior before there was earth but on earth came into the chaos we call life and lived and laughed and said yes and said no and was put to death for saying to much and came alive again because he had much more to say... a gift of salvation that keeps on speaking into our lives and saving us every single day.

So let it come to you. Stop seeking and working to make things look better this holiday season on your house or in your heart, because Jesus has come to wrap you in the most beautiful gift of all... life…lived honestly…amidst the slime of sin with the sacredness that only comes in receiving the Savior.

Stop. Stop the dreams, the wish lists, the therapy sessions, the home makeovers. Stop trying and start receiving.

The light is already shining...

It’s a difficult concept for a culture that doesn’t take siestas, a culture that takes their iPhones with them on vacation. A culture that pushes students to prep their resumes for college, pushes moms to have the baby and the career all at once, pushes dads to give so much to their family that they spend more time making money than they do making memories.

When resumes require job experience and education and continuing education and field work and community volunteering and the model family…

When are we ever told to receive?
Where does that go on the resume? When is that listed in our job description? When were we graded on that in school?

When are we told to receive, to stop trying, to get the gift of grace?
When are we told to stop praying and volunteering and trying to be the best and to instead receive the best: the baby in a barn, a stable, a cave?

Receive the love of God. Receive the salvation of Christ. Stop fretting for it. Stop working for it. Stop pretending you’re full and start letting go. Release your grip on the Christmas lights and see the stable. Remember what brought Jesus into this world and remember that we’re still waiting for God’s Kingdom to be realized on earth. And when you do that, pause. Let the grief overwhelm you. Let your sin embarrass you. Let yourself go, and be released into the arms of a child, of a Savior.

And hang a picture of that on your Christmas tree.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Lisa and the Legless Man

So on Facebook there are these magical little things called "status updates" and it works like it sounds. You update your status ("Ann is sick"... "Ann is at work"... "Ann is wishing she wasn't at work"... "Ann is still sick"... etc. and Facebook tells your friends you've updated your status so they may always keep an eye on you - oops, i mean, keep up with you.

So a few days ago I read this in my newsreel about my friend Lisa in Africa (I've written about her before)...

"Lisa was acosted and held hostage by a man without legs. [yes, i'm fine.]"

And yes, what you just uttered under your breath or perhaps exclaimed out loud is exactly what i said.

So of course all of her friends instantly begged for more details on her facebook page to which Lisa responded with this brief recap:

"let's just say, christmas shopping in monrovia doesn't exactly put one in the 'christmas spirit'! downtown + drunk, former rebel fighter + white woman = opportunity for financial gain! the guy grabbed my legs then followed me in to the car...hopped on my lap and wouldn't leave the vehicle until he got his money. 10 min. later, legless man still not budging and 25 people surrounded the car yelling and adding to the chaos - best show in town apparently! all ended well somehow...although not sure what the crowd did to my little friend after we left...ah, sweet christmas memories in monrovia."

Obviously, I can not add anything else to this story, so i will stop now.

Except to say... I have the coolest friends with the craziest lives.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Oh To Be Rich

...and "struggling." Check out this excerpt from an article in Vanity Fair. My favorite is the coupon lady...

Only months ago, ordering that $1,950 bottle of 2003 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon at Craft restaurant or the $26-per-ounce Wagyu beef at Nobu, or sliding into Masa for the $600 prix fixe dinner (not including tax, tip, or drinks), was a way of life for many Wall Street investment bankers. “The culture was that if you didn’t spend extravagantly you’d be ridiculed at work,” says a former Lehmanite. But that was when there were investment banks. Now many bankers, along with discovering $15 bottles of wine, are finding other ways to cut back—if not out of necessity, then from collective guilt and fear: the fitness trainer from three times a week to once a week; the haircut and highlights every eight weeks instead of every five. One prominent “hedgie” recently flew to China for business—but not on a private plane, as before. “Why should I pay $250,000 for a private plane,” he said to a friend, “when I can pay $20,000 to fly commercial first class?”

The new thriftiness takes a bit of getting used to. “I was at the Food Emporium in Bedford [in Westchester County] yesterday, using my Food Emporium discount card,” recounts one Greenwich woman. “The well-dressed wife of a Wall Street guy was standing behind me. She asked me how to get one. Then she said, ‘Have you ever used coupons?’ I said, ‘Sure, maybe not lately, but sure.’ She said, ‘It’s all the rage now—where do you get them?’”

One former Lehman executive in her 40s stood in her vast clothes closet not long ago, talking to her personal stylist. On shelves around her were at least 10 designer handbags that had cost her anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 each.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I guess I’ll have to get rid of the maid.”

Why not sell a few of those bags?, the stylist thought, but didn’t say so.

“Well,” the executive said after a moment, “I guess I’ll cut her from five days a week to four.”

Friday, December 05, 2008

Promptness is next to Godliness when it comes to Godless Christmas shopping.

Dear Family,

I have yet to receive any of your Christmas lists. Dad usually requires us to have them by Thanksgiving which means you're tardy. My list was posted on time of course. :) However, since Dad also likes our lists to be decorated creatively with markers and glitter and chalk and whatever else you artists can muster up and since I have no talent in this area, mine is just a typed list with links to items. Grr. Deal with it. Maybe I'll creatively sing my list to you when I get home or something. Anyway, if I'm going to lose the creative award with regard to Christmas lists as always, at least I'll win the most timely award.

Long story short, either fax or email me your duly decorated lists pronto, otherwise, lord only knows what i'll get a hankering to buy you...