A Few Top Fives

MOVIES

  1. Lonesome Dove (technically a mini-series)
  2. Castaway
  3. The Way
  4. The Big Year
  5. The Right Stuff

SONGS

  1. Hotel California (the acoustic version on Hell Freezes Over)
  2. I Will Always Love You (Whitney Houston)
  3. All My Hope is in Jesus (Crowder)
  4. I Believe in a Hill Called Mt. Calvary (Gaither Vocal Group)
  5. Isn’t She Lovely (Stevie Wonder)

ACTORS

  1. Tom Hanks
  2. Philip Seymour Hoffman
  3. Robert Duvall
  4. Morgan Freeman
  5. Leonardo DiCaprio

ACTRESSES

  1. Jessica Lange
  2. Julianne Moore
  3. Meryl Streep
  4. Octavia Spencer
  5. Jodie Foster

BOOKS

  1. Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren
  2. Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
  3. Chesapeake by James Michener
  4. Somebody Told Me by Rick Bragg
  5. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony  Bourdain

PLACES I’VE BEEN

  1. Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
  2. Kneeling at the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain
  3. Isle of Palms, South Carolina
  4. Any sunset in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador
  5. Yellowstone National Park

SPORTS MOMENTS I WITNESSED LIVE

  1. Mohammed Ali lighting the torch in the 1996 Olympic Games
  2. 1980 Miracle on Ice
  3. Reggie Jackson’s 3 home runs in Game 6, 1977 World Series
  4. Jack Nicklaus Masters Champion 1986
  5. #6 Auburn beats #1  Alabama in Iron Bowl Fiasco

FAVORITE SUPERBOWL SNACKS

  1. SONIC cheesesticks w/Route 44 Diet Dr Pepper w/cherry
  2. Doritos w/Velveeta/Rotel cheese dip
  3. Hot Chicken Dip
  4. Giant Gyro
  5. Little Smokies

THINGS YOU PROBABLY DON’T KNOW ABOUT ME

  1. You’d be hard pressed to find more of an expert on professional wrestling during the 1980s.
  2. I like Michael Bolton’s music.
  3. I cry pretty frequently.
  4. If it’s a working day inside involving heavy writing I’ll walk outside for a breath of fresh air and a reset at least twice a hour.
  5. Ninety percent of my shirt wardrobe is in the guayaberas style.

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To the Candidates for Arkansas’ Disgraced State Senate Seat

So several of you are thinking about, or say you are in the running for the Arkansas State Senate District 21 seat. Contrary to many media headlines, it’s not, and never was, Paul Bookout’s seat. It belongs to the people of Jonesboro and the surrounding area. That’s one thing. Just for the record.

As you move forward in your candidacy, and perhaps beyond in your service … a few suggestions to consider:

arkansas state flag

1.  Your candidacy, platform and service should be based in how you see things differently four years from now.  What will have changed for the better, and what legacy will you leave? The fact is, for the most part, we’ve had a horrible group of state legislators from this area, who’ve brought us as much embarrassment  as they have good. The truth is, we’ve enjoyed fair success, not because of, but in spite of, goofy and lazy state legislators whom we can only blame ourselves for electing. There were a few decent ones. Not that many.

2. On that note, keep in the back of your mind the state’s most widely circulated newspaper publishes its list of the 10 Worst State Legislators following each meeting of the General Assembly. We had a state senator who made that list not too long ago, They said he was as effective as a “piece of furniture.” Yes, furniture. The best you could say about him is that he was arrogant, yet ineffective. Two days ago, the man who carries that dubious distinction said he is running again.  Whichever of you is elected to the District 21 Senate seat, do us a favor and don’t make that list. It embarrasses us.

3. You’ll inevitably say your platform gives high priority to education. Please don’t say that if you don’t mean it. Consider actually doing something that would make a difference in a first grader’s life 25 years from now. Want to ensure that young kids today have a job 25 years from now? Mandate second language fluency for graduation. Students in the European nations will be fluent in three to four languages upon graduation. Most students in Arkansas don’t even know grammatical English.  The kids today who have second language fluency 25 years from now will never lack for a job. And have you ever read the educational guidelines from the Arkansas Department of Education? Could they be any more convoluted? Another idea? How about right here in Craighead County, maybe we should have one superintendent of schools rather than seven. I dare you to tackle that one. It’s the right thing, no matter what anyone says, or what turf they try to protect.

4. Lately, some state office holders have said our ethics guidelines are “gray.” Not really. Good ethics are pretty simple. You err on the side of caution. Always. If you can’t properly interpret state ethics guidelines,  you probably shouldn’t run for office in the first place.

5. If you raise money for a campaign, spend it on a campaign. Spend it all. Don’t carry your funds over. Nip temptation in the bud. State legislators need not carry over campaign funds.

6. If you make a mistake, admit it, and don’t be so arrogant or self-absorbed with your own well-being, that you refuse to say, “I’m sorry.” It’s not cool, and the voters will never forget it.

7. Don’t try to be a big shot. In this job, you are a citizen-legislator. There’s a reason “citizen” comes first. It’s a part-time job where you are elected to serve and sacrificially give of yourself. Don’t try to be a big shot. It didn’t work out so well for the last guy.

8. If you are running for this office as a spring board to something beyond. Don’t do it. Run because you want to make a difference here.

9. Want to see an example of a pretty good state legislator? You need not look too far to Greene County. Robert Thompson shows every indication of a public servant with integrity, smarts and devotion. I question his decision to give legal representation to Paul Bookout, but it’s not the end of the world. He’s a good example for any state legislator.

10. Please understand the difference between your choice to be a politician, and your duty as a public servant. Politics is a necessary evil and often gets public servants in trouble. Public service, done well, is among the most admirable of vocations. And there is a big difference between the two.

11. When the media calls, call them back. Actually speak to them. Don’t hide behind emails and “press releases.” At the end of his term, the last office holder tried to manipulate his message by having a one-way conversation with the media. Ultimately, everyone saw through that.

Good luck.

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Jesse Jackson: Jonesboro Man’s Death Shrouded in Mystery

Chavis Carter death

Rev. Jesse Jackson prepares to lead a peaceful march on the Jonesboro Police Department. At Jackson’s left is the mother of Chavis Carter. – Aug. 22, 2012.

Story and Photos by Steve Watkins

JONESBORO, ARRev. Jesse Jackson led a prayer vigil and peaceful march to the Jonesboro Police Department on Wednesday, calling on authorities to make account for a missing segment of video that would explain how a man died in the back of a police car.

jesse jackson and chavis carter

Chavis Carter

It’s a case “shrouded in mystery,” Jackson said, with “many unanswered questions to be pursued.”

Jackson attended a series of meetings in Jonesboro and Memphis on Wednesday following the death of Chavis Carter, arrested by authorities on the night of July 28. Carter was handcuffed, placed in the backseat of a patrol car, and minutes later was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head.

Police have released video of the event, absent a three-minute segment that includes

chavis carter memorial

A simple memorial placed at the scene of Chavis Carter’s death.

the moment of Carter’s death. An autopsy performed by the Arkansas State Crime Lab ruled the death a suicide, but Jackson and others question the ASCL’s ruling and the lack of details released in the case.

“The authorities are giving what amounts to a Houdini explanation for how a handcuffed man, left-handed, could shoot himself in the right side of his head,” Jackson said. “This smells like a cover-up and the stench is growing.”

Jackson said Carter’s family asked him to contact the U.S. Justice Department calling for an independent investigation of the case. Earlier in the day, he met with Carter’s mother at The Cochran Firm in Memphis.

The crime lab report showed Carter’s blood contained trace amounts of methamphetamine, marijuana and anti-anxiety medications at the time of his arrest.

Two arresting officers searched Carter twice, who was wearing only boxer shorts and a t-shirt before placing him under arrest. Jackson and others now question how police missed Carter’s alleged possession of a handgun.

The Carter case has prompted a number of accusations against the Jonesboro Police

jonesboro chief of police mike yates

Jonesboro, Arkansas Chief of Police Mike Yates

Department with allegations of racial profiling and claims that officers target minorities in low-income neighborhoods.

chavis carter and jesse jackson

Rev. Jesse Jackson organizes a peaceful march calling for the release of more details in the death of Chavis Carter in Jonesboro, AR on July 28.

Some have called for the resignation of police chief Mike Yates, further claiming he left his previous position in Americus, Georgia under questionable terms. Claimants have produced no such evidence against Yates.

One JPD officer speaking on condition of anonymity said further details will be released soon, making it clear Carter’s death was indeed a suicide. He said arresting officers in their search, did, in fact, miss a .380 caliber handgun in Carter’s possession.

“It’s a horrible, horrible thing any time when something like this happens,” he said. “But accidents do happen. I searched a man twice in one case and missed an eight-inch knife on him. It’s just a miracle he didn’t use the gun to fire on the officers.”

The officer said he believed Jackson’s visit complicated the divide between African-Americans and the JPD.

“He’s supposed to be an educated man, and everyone would be a lot better off if he waited to get the facts before passing judgment in a case like this. It’ll be clear soon how all this came about.”

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We Know It’s Hot. Thank You for Not Telling Us How Hot it Is.

“You have delighted us long enough.” ~ Jane Austen

***

As the outside temperature bumped 103°, Sara Sullivan had listened to just about enough of the cutesy customer commentary.

Sara’s the third generation of her family to manage a local dry cleaner in my hometown. They are an anomaly in the world of small business surviving the ups and downs of a fickle economy over the last 54 years.

Their local enterprise serves about 150 customers each day.

It’s not exactly a white-collar career, and the conditions aren’t always delightful. You see, the process for dry cleaning clothes starts with a heat-generating machine called a boiler. And there’s not an air conditioner in the house. It makes you sweat just thinking about it.

No AC. Fans only in this shop. Truthfully, they just blow the hot air around.

It’s hot enough to peel house paint in Arkansas this week. Today’s forecast is for a high of 104° and I suppose we’ll break out the sweatshirts when it cools down to 99° on Monday.

Take triple-digit heat, no AC and boilers, and the dry-cleaning business becomes a sweatshop. And did I mention the shop’s internal temperature typically runs 25° to 30° higher than the outside temp? Conservatively, that means the temperature in Sara’s business yesterday ran at right about 128°.

And so the customer commentaries at Sara’s shop this week haven’t been exactly original.

Sara Sullivan manages the business started by her great grandfather in 1958.

“Good grief, it’s hot in here,” they’ll say one after another.

“Really?” Sara thought to herself after so many days. “I didn’t know that.”

Enough was enough.

She took the initiative, and prominently displayed the sign you see here in this post. It’s hilariously brilliant.

“So what do you say to the customers who come in and remark about how hot it is in here?” I asked Sara during a quick interview.

“Well I’d like to tell them if they really want to know how hot it is they ought to take a look at the sweat running down the crack of my a**,” she said.

I do believe I touched a nerve with that question.

For related commentary on this post, check out one of my additional blogsites at: http://wp.me/p2wzTk-S

***

(Blogger‘s Note: Capturing this great story would not have been possible without the storytelling of my work colleague, Jim Jackson. He returned to work after a lunch errand yesterday and told the story about the sign. He was laughing so hard I couldn’t resist running out to take a few photos, doing a quick interview and putting this on the blog.)

Un-Learning Church – The Inverted Steeple Approach

One of my first recollections of church is a Southern Baptist cliché. I think I was 5 years old, so the year would have been 1971.

An aunt was babysitting me for the weekend and she took me along one night to her church revival.

It was hot summertime in Arkansas, the place was packed and all my 5–year-old mind could hear was a preacher saying I was going to hell if I didn’t repent. Hell, fire, losing my soul, dying lost – that’s what I recall as being the message.

I was scared to death and became so uncomfortable I started crying and throwing a tantrum. Eventually, my behavior was so unruly my aunt took me to the car for the remainder of the service so as not to be a distraction.

Why that background is important, I really don’t know, other than to say the “fear” of God is something that stayed with me for many years, until quite recently, in fact.

Most of us who are “good church people” have pretty much learned “church” in similar ways. It’s the “place” we go on Sunday. We sing songs, we pray, we hear the weekly message, maybe a few people get “saved” at the altar call, and the next Sunday we do it all over again.

Most of my adult life, I was a pretty good “church person.” I rarely missed, gave my time and resources, taught Sunday school. Still, I had failures along the way, and I took a performance-based approach to “make up” for all the shortcomings in my life.

As one wise leader recently put it, there was always the “nagging chihuahua” of sin and failure nipping at my heals telling me I wasn’t forgiven, and God was mad.

And so there really never was a time when there wasn’t a spiritual void in my life. Either I was missing something, not doing something right, or really just didn’t understand.

It’s the latter of the three to which I’ve now drawn my conclusion.

TURNING POINT

About six months ago I walked away from church. Right or wrong, it was a personal decision.

I simply, in good conscience could no longer be a part of revising constitutions and bylaws, scrutinizing line-item budgets and trying to re-create what was created originally some 30 years ago. It felt to me as if it were an empty effort. For me, recreating a vision of the past was a missionless mission.

In many ways, I believe that we (the body) have taken ownership of the church – and not in the best of ways. While we’ve been well-intentioned, we’ve taken the wrong turn at the fork in the road. We’ve tried to make the church what we believe it should be, but if we open our eyes to the reality of the world, it clearly isn’t working.

One of the most profound works I’ve come across on this topic is a book titled: “On the Verge: A Journey into the Apostolic Future of the Church. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_12?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=on+the+verge&sprefix=on+the+verge%2Cstripbooks%2C229

Here’s an excerpt that summarizes this issue upon which “Verge” focuses:

ADDRESSING THE MISSIONARY PROBLEMS

“The related problem comes from the likelihood that around 60 percent of America’s population (much higher in Europe and Australia) is increasingly alienated from the prevailing forms of church. In missionary terms, it means they are culturally distant from us. As a sent and sending people (that is, missional people) it is our task to take the message to them and deliver it in ways meaningful to them. This means we need to reassess the situation in light of best-practice missionary approaches.

“We need to ask the question, what is the gospel for this people group? What would sound like good news to them? This means we must first attend to the existential and religious issues people are facing, before we can communicate how the gospel addresses them. Think of it this way: don’t plant churches; plant the gospel, and the church will grow out of it (emphasis mine). This will mean we go back to our primal message and allow it to reframe the way we see church – not the other way around. It’s imagination fired up by the gospel and its missional implications that drives the church to become more authentically evangelical.

“If we persist with the current status quo, we are, in effect, asking the non-believer to do all the cross-cultural work in coming to church. Remember, we are the sent ones – not them. So we not only bring people to church (that will work for the 40 percent); we also take church to the people (to reach the other 60 percent and growing). We can’t front-load church into the equation of mission. We must go to the people group and – once we have understood their culture a whole lot more – then ask ourselves the question what is church for these people? We can’t presume to have the answer up front.”

In our missional community group a few nights ago, I heard a perfect execution of the method outlined above.

A young couple fresh out of Dallas Theological Seminary answered the call to serve as missionaries in Portland, Oregon – considered by some to be one of the most “unchurched” cities in the U.S.

They learned quickly that building a “church” as we know it, was not the answer.

They intentionally located themselves in a low-income neighborhood with a high population of lesbian-gays and single moms. And from there, they immersed themselves in the culture, getting to know people, helping where they could, spending time with people and ultimately gaining trust to form home groups where people could be real, transparent and loved without judgment.

From there, the MC (missional community) groups began meeting one Sunday a month as a “church.” And three and a half years later, they meet every Sunday for congregational worship. The weekly MC groups, however, remain as the hub of gospel love and transparent relationships.

A Nashville-based pastor who endorses this approach said two things recently that have remained in my thoughts:

1. I’ve never seen a person who feels “too” forgiven.

2. We must get up each day and approach life as if we’ve never heard the simple forgiving message of the Gospel.

I’ve recently joined a missional community group and a church that believes in these things, and many people have asked me what it’s like. My consistent response is this:

“It feels like I’m breathing fresh air for the first time.”

There’s an interesting history in the church steeple we see on so many of our buildings. Originating in the middle ages, some say the steeple was contrived to point heavenward to God and his kingdome. Others might argue the steeple is just one of many pagan symbols the church has adopted over time. http://www.ehow.com/about_5052101_origin-church-steeples.html Maybe we should think about inverting the steeple with God pointing downward to his people in His abounding mercy, grace and love.

Just maybe, God wants us to focus specifically on where we are at a given point in time, and work upward to the “bigger stuff” from there.

When it comes to church, I have a lot to Un-Learn.

RELATED LINKS:

“On the Verge: A Journey into the Apostolic Future of the Church” http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_12?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=on+the+verge+a+journey+into+the+apostolic+future+of+the+church&sprefix=on+the+verge%2Cstripbooks%2C123

Why the “Leadership Movement” is Leaving Your Church Leaderless: http://www.vergenetwork.org/2012/05/29/why-the-leadership-movement-is-leaving-your-church-leaderless/

Alan Hirsch (author of On the Verge): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Hirsch

“The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church” http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_2_18?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=the+forgotten+ways+reactivating+the+missional+church&sprefix=the+forgotten+ways%2Cstripbooks%2C490

Verge Network: http://www.vergenetwork.org/

Verge Network on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/VergeNetwork

Fellowship Bible Church – Jonesboro – Home Page: http://fellowshipjonesboro.com/

Three of My Favorites from the Ecuadorian Adventure

Was watching a sunset to the west, then turned around to see this beautiful sight over Los Suenos del Mar toward the eastern mountains.

A mile high looking down on the crater of an imploded volcano 1,400 years ago … now some of the most fertile farmland you can imagine. The clouds are actually below where we’re standing.

On the beach in Puerto Cayo, I love the ray of light coming down from the left in this photo.

Let’s Pray About It (or just do nothing)

Keenly aware of his own shortcomings, Jack still liked to think of himself as a decent enough man.

Complex by nature and misunderstood by most, Jack walked around most days with an invisible guard that only few could permeate. Very few.

He didn’t necessarily like that about himself, but the circumstances of his every-day life reinforced his intrinsic nature. At least that was his excuse.

But made aware of an injustice against a brother or an urgent need, he could be provoked to radical 360-action in the blink of an eye.

Jack lived a busy life with a good day job and lots of peripheral interests. His phone would ring dozens of times during the day and he was selective in the calls he took, and the ones he let go straight to voicemail.

When his phone rang at 9:14 that morning, he only vaguely recognized the number, but it was familiar enough that he decided to take the call. On the other end was a welcome voice – an old friend wise in years and experience that called every couple of months just to check in on Jack.

He did it because he was a good man, and he cared.

“How ’bout a cup of coffee with old friend,” Simon asked, “… say around 9:45?”

It was impossible to say no to Simon, the man who had counseled him through tough times and even conducted the wedding ceremony for Jack and his wife Diane almost three years ago.

“See you then,” Jack said, knowing any visit with Simon was a time to treasure.

Simon arrived three minutes late whipping into the parking lot at breakneck speed. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, “I had three people come into the church and wanted to talk and I just told them I had an important meeting.”

Simon was an elder-emeritus at a church that over the past year had been on the brink of chaos. A split in the congregation had created deep wounds that compelled Simon to action and take the reigns to lead the healing process. It had become his full-time job. And it was beginning to wear on him.

Jack and Simon exchanged the normal pleasantries and talked about the important things happening in their lives, and Jack noticed an unusual burden on the man he so loved and respected.

“Are you okay,” Jack asked.

“I’m fine, just tired. I’ve made a commitment to the church to see us through until we find a new pastor and then I’m going into hiding for a while. I’m tired,” Simon said.

Jack shared with Simon his plans for a vacation adventure on his schedule in the coming week and Simon’s eyes lit up with curiosity.

“Boy, I wish my wife and I could do that. I need a break,” he said. “I guess I’ll have to live vicariously through you. Will you send me a postcard?”

Jack reached across the table and grabbed Simon’s arm. “This is what I want you to do,” he said. “Think about yourself today, forget everybody else, go and make a reservation to somewhere tropical and get out of here tomorrow.”

“Well you don’t understand, I’ve made this commitment and I’ve got to see it through, and I don’t think we could pull it off anyway.”

And Jack’s wheels started turning.

The conversation continued, the two parted ways, and as Jack drove away he determined to respond to call he believed came straight from God.

“It would only take about $2,500 to send Simon and his wife away on a surprise and well-deserved vacation,” Jack thought to himself. “And we could have him in Bermuda shorts within a week sitting on some Caribbean beach. I’ll chip in my share,” he thought, “and make a few calls to friends who love Simon the most and we’ll have him on his way before the sun goes down. Everyone would surely understand and be compelled to help.” He just knew it.

Over lunch Jack made a quick list of a half-dozen people to whom he could call and make the case. How exciting! What a great surprise for this wonderful man. A few calls here, a few calls there, start the chain call for the cause and the deal will be done.

Jack, the naive dreamer. Oh, the humanity.

“It’s a great idea and well-deserved, the recipient of the first call responded. My first thought is it would be better to do this later, but we’ll pray about it and see what happens.”

“I don’t really have time to give this the thought I’d like too, but it’s something we ought to do,” the second call recipient responded. “The timing may not be right for the church to pull something like this off. I think it’s something we’ll just have to pray about.”

“I’m glad you’re taking the initiative,” the third call recipient responded.”I want to pray about this.”

Let’s pray about it.

Jack saw the writing on the wall. He tried not to be angry, but it was hard.

“The timing’s just not right,” … the message from those he called kept running through his mind.

Maybe we’ll pray about it for another six months and Simon will be so spent that it’s too late.

Maybe instead one day we’ll spend thousands of dollars on flowers for his memorial service and talk about what a great man he was. “We sure did appreciate and love him. He was a great man,” we’ll say with our posthumous honor and glory.

“Let’s pray about it…”

Or just do nothing. That works.

Not.

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The Holy Spirit: Our Bastard Stepchild?

“It is better for you that I go away. If I do not go away, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, will not come to you. If I go away, I will send Him to you.” ~ John 16:7

Notice the last sentence in that verse. “I will send HIM to you.”

God the Father.

God the Son.

God the Holy Spirit.

Seems the Spirit is the last one to get our attention. We put Him at the bottom of the list.

We count the Spirit as one of the Trinity because the Bible tells us to do so. But why do we so often view Him as the lesser of the three, an occasional afterthought, when John tells us in the verse above that it is better for Jesus to go and the Spirit to come.

Another translation of that verse says: “It is expedient for you that I go away.”

Though Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, it’s the goal of most Christians to follow Him and to become more like Him. How do we know Jesus if he’s away in the Heavenly realm and we’re here on earth, and why was it better for Him to go away?

Jesus’ task on earth was completed on the cross. It is a finished work. The job was done, and thank goodness for that.

But we do well to remember that God himself took on our humanity as Jesus the Son, and by His own choice He limited himself by becoming man. Jesus (as man) could not be all things to all people, in all places at all times.

In other words, if the Lord Jesus were here today in His human body, He couldn’t be where I am now and where you are at the same time.

But there is one who can, and is.

If the “headline” on this post makes you uncomfortable, I join with you in that discomfort. I mean no harm and no disrespect. It makes me uncomfortable because it points out my failure, and moreover, my sin.

So many times, I’ve heard people in church say … ‘the Holy Spirit was really present in our service today.’

Are we guilty of viewing the Spirit as some magical energy force, more powerful at one time than another, choosing to “show up” at one moment and not the next? Is He just some heavenly fog that we eagerly await to descend upon us and transfigure the moment? Is He just some spiritual portal through which we must pass to touch the face of God?

I’m guilty.

A pastor in my hometown was courageous enough to ask this question to his congregation last  Sunday. His question stopped my thoughts dead in their tracks. Why would I long for the Spirit to show up and do a great work in my life when he’s already right there, all the time? He lives inside of me.

He grieves when I violate my moral consciousness. He disciplines me in love when I go against His will, but He stands beside me at all times and loves me because I belong to Him. The deal is done.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten things wrong. We’ve bought into the idea that the Spirit is some transcendent force or power – some notion just beyond our grasp and reach. We hope and pray that He will show up and move us on Sundays.

We’ve learned it all wrong, and so now, we have a lot to un-learn.

I know I do.

Thank goodness for the Better Way, and let the lessons of un-learning begin.

Blogging Outside Your Comfort Zone: 7 Tips

(Blogger’s Note: If you’re a blogger or writer, I’d love to hear your own experiences about writing outside your comfort zone. Please share away!)

Traditional tips you’ll read about effective blogging will typically tell you to write about the things you know, choose a niche and pitch yourself as an expert and an authority.

It’s good advice. Everyone’s an expert in something, and there’s definitely something to be said for consistency in your blogging topics. It’s the best way to build a strong platform and a loyal audience. Your readers should come to expect a certain style in your work.

But the adventuresome blogger, will, from time to time, will make a gutsy move and go outside his comfort zone for the sake of curiosity, and just to see what happens. That’s exactly what I did yesterday.

My brand of writing is designed to make people think. Not necessarily to change their minds, but to think differently with new perspectives about certain things. Mostly, I enjoy using Biblical metaphors and writing about the application they have in our present lives. But every so often, I’ll jump outside my writer’s comfort zone to experiment, and yesterday’s blog, titled Here in Arkansas – It’s the Perfect Storm http://wp.me/p2bjEC-8j …. was just that. An experiment that proved interesting.

The blog’s topic was the national attention that’s been drawn to the University of Arkansas’ football program and the subsequent firing of head coach Bobby Petrino. Moreover, it speculated the Razorbacks would attempt to lure Arkansas State University coach Gus Malzahn (just 300 miles down the road) as his replacement.

It’s a topic ripe for speculation and controversy, and so I ventured into the unknown to see what attention might be drawn to my theory of how the scenario might play over the next few days.

The results: A record number of hits for a single post with readers in seven countries.

In thinking about writing outside our comfort zones, I wanted to offer seven tips, lessons learned, if you will, for how this post generated record traffic. Consider these tips in a future venture outside your own blogging comfort zone.

  • LOOK FOR A HOT TOPIC – Even if you’re not an expert, it’s okay to jump in the middle of something. Sports, especially college football, is a big deal. In the SEC, some call it Saturday Down South. Take advantage of writing directly to a well-defined audience. SEC football fans are pretty well-defined.
  • SPECULATE – That you are not an expert – it matters not. Opinion piece writing generates more opinions, and more hits on your blog. It creates conversation and back-and-forth dialogue. Everyone has an opinion. Share yours.
  • TAG TAG TAGHere in Arkansas – It’s the Perfect Storm http://wp.me/p2bjEC-8j had some 50 tags attached, and the search engine results showed the tags worked.

  • USE POWERFUL VISUALS – It was an easy choice for this particular post. Choose an image of a Razorback and one of an Arkansas State University Redwolf, and the collective blood pressure of football fans across the state skyrockets.

  • GO PLACES YOU’VE NEVER GONE BEFORE – I placed this post on Facebook pages everywhere … official pages of both universities, football blogs across the South, media outlet blogs, and it worked.
  • USE POWERFUL METAPHORS – The Perfect Storm perfectly described the possible scenario for the outcome of this unique situation. All the elements are perfectly lined up for a monumental fight if UA even breathes on Malzahn.
  • BE INTENTIONAL IN LOOKING FOR RIVALRIES – For your post it may be politics, education, religion or whatever. College football in the South is ripe with rivalries and putting yesterday’s post in the middle of it all just added a small bit of flame to the fire. That’s what writers love, right?

Niche, consistency, expertise – yes – it’s the best way to blog. But stretch yourself sometimes and get in the thick of something wild.

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Here in Arkansas – It’s the Perfect Storm

I have some 20 years experience in the news media – writing, editing, publishing, and as much as I love sports, I’ve never written a single sports story. Today will be different, however, if just an educated observation.

College sports in the South is business. Football is serious stuff. It rocks our world. And a major tremor hit here in Arkansas last night. The magnitude and collateral damage could be significant. Only the dawn of Wednesday will tell.

First – hats off to University of Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long. Faced with pressure from all points we can only imagine, Long fired a Razorback coach who put a team in contention for a national championship last season. Bobby Petrino is a winner on the field, but we now know that he’s only human, not a superhero, off the field.

There was every reason in the world for Long to find a way to allow Petrino to stay. Millions of dollars were at stake, and the diehard win-at-all cost fans wanted him to remain.

But at a 7 p.m. press conference last night, Long announced Petrino’s termination, no strings or perks attached. He’s done, and the collateral damage Petrino has brought onto himself is now his alone with which me must deal. It’s no longer a professional issue for Petrino. The consequences will last forever. I hope his family heals and forgives over time.

But what of the future?

Here in a remote corner of the state is Arkansas State University, the stepchild, clambering for attention for decades and making strides with a magnificent season last year under coach Hugh Freeze, who immediately afterward RAN to the SEC leading the Ole Miss Rebels. You can’t blame the man, but from ASU’s standpoint, it’s hard to be the doorman at a revolving portal.

Then – as if manna from Heaven – ASU pulls its own miracle hiring coach Gus Malzahn, an up-and-coming SEC star courted by many reputable schools, and some how, some way, ASU financial supporters court Malzahn well enough to convince him  ASU would be a great place to take a program it its next level.

Billboards go up across the state. Game On, they say. It’s the era of Howlzahn. Finally, the stepchild is getting some well-deserved attention.

Now, 300 miles down the road, there’s an SEC opening anyone would kill to have. When Malzahn came to ASU, there were even rumors the U of A Foundation helped make it all possible, setting Malzahn up for his next job at U of A.

Unless Malzahn comes out TODAY with the announcement he’s staying put – it’s on.

We’re about to find out. It’s going to be one of those hot, humid, sticky days in Arkansas where you can just feel something coming headstrong through tornado alley. We will look to the western horizon to see what develops. It may just be a famished, blood-sucking Razorback with sharpened tusks looking to wreak havoc on Jonesboro.

Did Jeff Long go into his press conference last night knowing he had an Ace in the Hole? Stay tuned. It won’t be long. If I were a betting man, I’d double down.

ASU fans have long-awaited the day they would match up with the Razorbacks on the gridiron. Well, game day is here, and it’s the Perfect Storm.

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