28 January 2007


January 28 is both the coldest, most god-forsaken day of the year...and my birthday.

I was born in Toledo, Ohio, in the middle of a snowstorm. The guy who helped me out was, no kidding, Dr. Bills. The omens weren't good, I must admit, but I've made it to 36. There is still some breathing room before the big four-oh (which is also the year Ellie will become a teenager).

At birthdays I like to take stock of aspirations and expectations. We had a Superman-themed birthday cake (which was cool). I had asked for--and received--presents that I'll use on my summer road trip down the Santa Fe Trail: hiking shoes, digital voice recorder, maps and books. Ellie goofed around, rearranging the numbers on my cake to read "63" insead of "36." We had a great time.
But if 36 is a waymark, what is it to me? Looking at the picture above, I'm heavier than I'd like to be, but with more hair than I expected to keep. My three kids are beautiful, simply beautiful, and my bride is still as gorgeous as she was the day I married her.
It's good to be here at 36, I guess.

27 January 2007

There is Surreal and then there is...

Last night. Friday nights in the Dittes family mean a trip into Portland for Oasis, a group of progressive Adventists who meet in the office of Dr. Taylor.

It's an improvement on a group that I tried to start at the Highland Church about a year ago. That group never got off the ground, but after I was off the scene, more Highland members got Oasis together, and it has proven to have legs, with an attendence of between 55 and 105 every Friday night for about nine months!

To date, I've been leery of helping as I burrowed into my new Methodist church community in Bethpage. A few weeks ago, I noticed that the music of the services had been sketchy. People resonsible for organizing the music hadn't been responsible. I felt God calling me to work with the music and build it up if I could. So on Thursday night, I went to practice. I took my dulcimer with me, thinking that I could play the strings if the whole keyboard thing didn't work out.

Instead I got drums. I've never played a drum set in my life, but they had a better keyboardist (my dad), and no one cared to hear my dulcimer. We were halfway through practicing the second song when the thought hit me: I'm a drummer in a band with my dad!!!!!!!

My dad's life revolves around music, and I'm lucky to have inherited a small portion of his enormous musical talents. But I remember growing up about how horrible the drums were. If my dad heard drums on a song, he turned off the radio--stuff like that. "If this were 25 years ago, I'd get a spanking," I told everyone there.

We had a great time, however. People weren't too critical of my beginning skills. I still look forward to turning over the drum set to someone else and picking up a real instrument, but this will have to do for awhile.

23 January 2007

Another Step Forward with Technology

Last week I set up a MySpace page. It's my cousin's fault, I guess--although I shouldn't complain too much about cousins. Norman was the one who got me started with Blogger. Look at me now!

I didn't mention this to anyone, yet a few days later, my Inbox was full of "friend" requests from my students. I'm not sure how they found me, but I was flattered. Hey, anytime you have someone asking to be your 'friend,' how can you say no?

Yesterday, Corey--a student I'd taught two years ago and a MySpace 'friend,' encouraged me to upload video. I had never done this--either on YouTube or MySpace--so I decided to begin by uploading footage of my students' performances in class.

The video below is one of the presentations. I'll need to explain because (like most things having to do with teenagers) a lot of it is an 'inside joke.' We had read a story called "The Monkey's Paw" that used sound effects to build the suspense and tension of a thriller-style short story. Students had to use sound effects. They could not use words. The performances didn't quite turn out how I liked, but I'll share them anyway.

The video below features four of my female students performing "The Monkey's Paw." It probably won't make much sense to you, but it will give you an idea of what my classroom looks like and who some of my silliest sophomore students are. (My favorite is Kristen, the girl whose hand plays the role of "The Paw!"


Monkey's Paw 3

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16 January 2007

Trying with Comedy Central

When I figured out how to post videos from YouTube, I think it made this blog a lot better. Now I'm going to try and embed videos from ComedyCentral into the blog.

Why? Two words, Stephen Colbert.

YouTube owes this guy, big time. People posted his rants all the time, and he was always one of the most popular. The demons at Comedy Central got him yanked for copyright reasons, but I'm bringing him back, my friends.

Colbert is the brilliant satirist who is the joy of American liberals like me. The post below includes a recent "rant" against the incoming Democratic congress, which touches on many of the highlights of his spiel--including the claim that he doesn't need to use his brain when he's thinking with his gut.

Considering that he's only marginally off the script of the right-wing nutcases that he's making fun of, Colbert is must-see viewing.

Let me know if you could see this--and tell me what you think.

15 January 2007

New Old Post

I had started a blog about our family's visit to the Georga Aquarium one month ago that I didn't finish until today. Since it was saved so long ago, it doesn't even show up on the front page!

Here's a link.

13 January 2007

Sermons from a 3-Year-Old

Jonah is three. He has been three for almost six months now, but he is really into the best part of being three--the part where everything he experiences gets turned into a question.

(Aside: the cool thing about having three kids instead of two is that I'm ready for these developments. I guess you could say that I'm much more acclimatized to the pace of parenting, as well as all the other stuff.)

We were at church last weekend. Jonah used to go to the nursery during church, but in recent weeks, he has insisted on going to "Big Church" with the rest of the family. (My church still has a children's church during the sermon, so Jenny and I can still get our weekly blessing uninterrupted. The boys are gone for about 20 minutes, then they return and join us for the Communion service.)

During the song service, Jonah was listening. As I was singing the first song, I felt him tugging on my leg. "Daddy, Daddy!" he said.

"What?" I asked.

"What means 'holy'?"

I had to pause for a moment. That's a pretty profound question to explain to an adult or a teenager, much less a three-year-old.

"It means good, Jonah, really really good--so good that no person can be that good. It means so good that it's God, because only God is holy."

Jo-Jo nodded his head. "Ahh!" he exclaimed.

A few minutes later we were singing, How Great is Our God. Jonah tugged at my leg again. "Daddy, what means 'trembles'?" he asked.

I thought about the lyrics I had been singing.
He wraps himself in light,
And darkness tries to hide
And trembles at his voice,
And trembles at his voice
How great is our God,

I held out my hand and shook it back and forth. It means to shake.


Awe, I might add, was what I was left with as I reflected Jonah's questions and the God whose praise had inspired them.

07 January 2007

The Monday Challenge

On New Year's Eve, I received some stunning news. Johnny, a good friend of mine at church, told us that he had stomach cancer. It was a stunning revelation. Johnny has been a real help to both Jenny and me, guiding me into a position of leadership at church and donating quite a bit of money to Jenny's clinic.

He was the closest person to me that has ever gone through cancer treatment. My grandmother on my mom's side died of cancer when I was three, but I have no memory either of her or her ordeal. I've lived a charmed life for 36 years, one might say.

What is interesting about this experience with Johnny is the kind of church we belong to--an environment where Christ's love permeates everything from worship to fellowship to interactions in the parking lot. Immediately after we heard this, we called Johnny up to the front of our classroom, we all laid hands on him, and we waited for the Spirit to summon prayers of hope from each one of us. I cried. It was an incredibly emotional experience.

On New Years' Day I pondered what to do about Johnny--how I could be a spiritual support for him as he undergoes a month of chemotherapy. I felt impressed to fast for him. Tuesday, I lengthened my worship, instead of eating breakfast. Whenever hunger pains struck, I replaced the thought, "I need food," with this prayer: "Johnny needs healing."

It must have worked. The report from the radiologist on Friday found that the cancer hadn't spread outside the tumor in Johnny's stomach--quite the miracle. Now he will undergo treatment at Vanderbilt University Medical Center for the next four Mondays in January, trying to get the tumor to the size where doctors can remove it completely.

I plan to fast for him every Monday in order that my spirit can strengthen him in his weakness--and that God's healing may be ever certain. Johnny is about 70 years old. He is very active--only retiring this past November from a 30-year career as a political fundraiser for the likes of Al Gore, Bill Clinton, Ned McWherter and Phil Bredesen (the last two were Democratic governors of Tennessee).

I would appreciate your prayers on his behalf. If you have any experience with fasting, I would love to hear about that, too.