Thursday, January 29

Ice Storm 2009

We're beginning to thaw out here in NW Arkansas. If you're not from here, you might not be up on the ice storm we've faced this week. The weather started to turn bad on Monday night and by Tuesday morning, things were pretty much frozen solid. It was kind of eerie, sitting in the house and hearing trees cracking and collapsing all through the neighborhood. Some sounded like gunshots. Others sounded like thunder. We would hear the noise and try to figure out where it was falling - and praying that it wasn't falling on someone's house. By the time the sleet and ice stopped falling on Wednesday, roads were pretty much impassable, tens of thousands of people were without electricity, thousands of trees were devastated, and homes and automobiles were damaged. Even today, the grocery stores in our area were still closed and thousands will be out of power for at least a couple more days. Temperatures should get above freezing tomorrow, so the thaw should start.

We have been fortunate at our house. Our power was out for an hour or so on Tuesday night and a couple of hours today. The cable (and internet) was out for a couple of days, but overall we didn't suffer much. We got to spend a couple of days together, watching shows we had DVR'd and playing cards and dominoes. The trees in our yard (and we have several) did suffer quite a bit of damage. At least one is totally destroyed and others may be irreparable harmed. But we are safe and warm and blessed.

One of the greatest blessings came on Wednesday afternoon. There was a knock on the door and a group of our neighbors were there to help with cleaning up our yard. (Ours was probably hit the worst on our block.) So 9-12 of us, with a couple of chain saws, spent a couple of hours cutting up branches and stacking them up to be hauled away. We chat with our neighbors occasionally, but we don't know most of them very well. So for them to take the initiative to help us out as they did really warmed our hearts. We are planning another work day on the street on Saturday. The temperature should be in the 50's so we should get a lot of work done.

Tuesday, January 20

Reflecting on the Inauguration of President Barak Obama

Did you make time today to watch the inauguration ceremony of Barak Obama as President of the United States? I hope you did. In fact, I wish schools across the country would have dismissed classes and required their students to watch the ceremony. As I said in a post last November, this was a significant day in the history of our nation. Whether you voted for Barak Obama or not, I hope you appreciated the significance of the day. Here are some of my thoughts as I watched the inauguration events:

* The crowd that gathered on the mall in Washington DC was amazing. Millions upon millions of people who couldn't get close enough to actually see the event, but who wanted to be part of history. I had friends there, but I never saw them on TV!

* Aretha Franklin's hat.

* The musical piece by Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, and crew was amazing.

* I thought Rick Warren did a great job with his prayer.

* Either I'm not smart enough to appreciate good poetry, or that wasn't good poetry (or delivery).

* President Obama's Inaugural Address was inspiring and just the right length.

* George Bush handled himself with class throughout this transition.

I found myself with a sense of optimism today. But it wasn't an optimism necessarily based on President Obama. I didn't vote for him and am still not sure what kind of president he will make. I think my optimism is based on a couple of things.

One is the progress our nation has made in the last 40 years. When Barak Obama was born, there were restaurants in our country in which he couldn't eat and hotels in which he couldn't stay. Now he is the president of the United States. We still have a lot of problems to face and a lot of differences to overcome, but we have overcome a lot, as well. I can only imagine the pride and joy felt today by those who fought the civil rights battles a generation ago.

The other is the fact that ultimately it is God who establishes nations and those who rule them. It is God who directs history. The future of our country is ultimately in His hands. I may not know what kind of president Barak Obama will make but I do know the kind of God I serve.

Monday, January 19

Trends on American Campuses

Here are some items from the Ivy Jungle Network's "Campus Ministry Update." Thought you might find them interesting:

The Crime of Evangelism: A student from Yuba Community College has received representation from the Alliance Defense fund after the school threatened to expel him if he shared his faith on campus again. Earlier this year, the student handed out tracts and engaged students in discussions about Christianity. He was stopped by campus police for distributing material without a permit. Three weeks later he received notice from the President of the school notifying him that he was under investigation for a campus crime and could be expelled if he engaged in the activity again. The case is now pending in a federal court. (OneNewsNow November 23, 2008)

College Becoming Too Expensive for Most: Between 1982 and 2007, the median family income rose 147%. During that same period the cost of college tuition and fees rose a staggering 432% - nearly triple the increase in income. A report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education fears that the cost trajectory could pose a big problem for students in the coming years. If students can't afford degrees, the economy may take an even bigger hit as the Baby-boom generation (the best educated in history) retires and fewer qualified workers exist to fill their ranks. ( December 4, 2008)

Wednesday, January 14

The World of Twitter

Some time last fall, I began using Twitter. If you're not up on the latest in technology, Twitter is a free social networking service that lets people send and read other users' updates (known as tweets), which are posts of up to 140 characters that answer the question "What are you doing?" Usually the posts are read online, though you can set the posts (or select posts) to be sent to your phone as a text message. I can decide who I want to "follow" (whose updates I want to read) and others can choose to "follow" me. Currently, I follow 207 people and 134 people are following me. Of course, just because I follow someone doesn't guarantee that I have time to read all of their posts. But when I do, there is usually something interesting going on.

It is an interesting community. I don't personally know most of those I follow or those who follow me. Some people post frequently - several times a day. Others post far less often. Most of the posts aren't significant. Tonight, during American Idol, there were a lot of posts regarding various contestants (good and bad). Others, however, provide insights that are insightful and thought-provoking. There are a lot of very sharp thinkers using Twitter. Some posts provide information that is helpful - even information on local situations or conditions.

One of the most interesting parts of Twitter is the diversity of those who use it. Unlike Facebook, the Twitter "demographic" is older - people 30 and over. Most of those I follow (and who follow me) are people you have never heard of. Many of them are involved in Christian ministry. But not all. And there are some interesting folks who Twitter on a regular basis. On the list of those I follow (and some of whom follow me) are actors (Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jimmy Fallon, Penn Jillette), musicians (Natalie Grant, Dave Matthews, Sheila Walsh, Deidra Hughes), athletes (Jerry Rice, Lance Armstrong, Natalie Gulbis, Shaquille O'Neal), politicians (Mike Huckabee, John Boozman, Barak Obama), and authors (Ed Stetzer, Mark Batterson, Thom Rainer, Leonard Sweet, Donald Miller), and more.

So after three or four months, what do I think? I think I like it. I enjoy the "dialogue" - listening in on the thoughts of others, learning from them. I like the way that answering the question "What are you doing?" makes me more aware of what I am doing, being more purposeful and focused.

If you decide to check Twitter out, be sure and look me up (@michtarm) and I'll follow you!

Monday, January 5

Some Interesting Reading

Here are some things that have been setting in my inbox that I found interesting. Maybe you will, too:

* From the BBC: "100 Things We Didn't Know Last Year" - As you read these, remember this is British. Some of the references I didn't recognize and the money is listed in pounds. And a lot of the things I already knew!

* From "The 12 Most Creative Minds of 2008" - I don't think I knew any of these people, but they are doing some really interesting things! Bonus question: Who is the most creative person you know? How do you define creativity?

* From "Top 2008 Albums for $5" - You can download some of last year's best albums from a variety of genres for just $5. I purchased a couple. Can you guess which ones?

Now that the inbox is a little less cluttered, I'll post about something more substantial next time.

Friday, January 2

Three (or Four) Words

There are two kinds of people: Those who make New Year's Resolutions and those who don't. I have always been a "goal-setter", so I naturally fall into the camp of those who make resolutions. Of course, I also fall into that camp's large subset of those who make New Year's Resolutions but don't succeed in keeping them!

Over the past couple of days, however, I have seen several people mention this blog post by Chris Brogan. He writes about a different way of setting direction for the new year - thinking in terms of three "words" that set the direction for the year rather than specific resolutions about what you are or are not going to do. When I read the post, I found that his ideas resonated with me. Over the past couple of years, I have been thinking more in term of a compass than a clock. A compass makes sure you are heading in the right direction (or at least in the direction you want to go). A clock measures where you are right now, without regard to the direction you are heading. The older I get, the more value I see in the compass than the clock. (In fact, I have even started collecting compasses - though the collection isn't very big yet.) In my mind, the "three words" idea is like a compass - setting the direction for the year.

So I have been thinking of my three words for 2009. But I couldn't settle on three, so I have four. My words for 2009 are:

Discipline - In all areas of my life, making sure I'm doing the things that will get me where I want to be and eliminating the things that hinder: spiritually, physically, financially, and more.

Focus - I often let my life get too scattered by saying "yes" to often and "no" too infrequently. So I want to narrow the focus of my life and ministry so that I can be most effective in the places that are more important.

Reflect - I need to do a better job of slowing down and spending time in spiritual and professional reflection. That means setting aside specific times on a regular basis for reflection, as well as just slowing down in my daily life to really see what is going on around me and recognize the doors for ministry that God opens.

Lead - I believe that organizations - including a campus ministry and the Church - rise or fall on leadership. God continually gives me opportunities to lead in a variety of areas, but I feel a need to be more proactive in those opportunities.

Those are my words for 2009. What are yours?