Friday, May 30, 2008

It’s A Sickening Feeling….

…when someone takes a sledgehammer to the entry way of your home and begins to demolish your front door and everything within reach. The very first time we experienced the feeling was back around 1980 when we built a two-story addition off the back of our house near Santa Cruz, California, and we’ve endured one or two other “events” since then.

Fortunately, the feeling doesn’t last too awful long, but it does affect you for a time until you begin to see progress that validates your decision. And we’re finally seeing some. The photo above shows our roughed-in new front entry door (from the inside), as electrical wiring is being altered today.

We decided months ago to make some significant improvements to our home that would make it more appealing to potential buyers for when we might decide to sell. With current market conditions, the decision to sell or put it off will be made when we can see if the summer brings fresh buyers, as it has in the past. When we finally do sell, it’ll enable us to build on the lot we purchased last Fall, some 45 miles away.

In the meantime, for the next week or three, we must try to maintain our sanity while the house is shaking from jack-hammer-like rumblings and while we're living in dust that seems to be everywhere. We’ve added French doors where our front and back (obstinate) sliders were, and we’ll add Canadian cherry hardwood floors to the great room and entry. The wood will match the existing kitchen flooring that was put in two years ago when we re-did our home galley.

We’re also adding new lighting throughout the great room/kitchen/dining areas, and the final alteration will be the addition of an in-the-wall gas fireplace to replace the old beastly wood stove which now protrudes much too far into the room.

Our hope, of course, is that the first potential buyer will walk in and say, “Wow!” And then proceed to write out a deposit check. Next week I’m also leaving for the Arctic to begin my summer job selling solar-powered outdoor refrigerators to native Americans.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My Giants Are But A Shadow of Their Storied Past

“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” asked Simon and Garfunkel in their famous song, Mrs. Robinson, written in the year my elder son was born. Back then, in 1968, the Giants finished second behind the Cards, who coasted to the National League title but then lost to Detroit in the World Series.

In those days Willie Mays was still good enough to hit .289 while patrolling centerfield and gobbling up everything in sight; Willie McCovey bashed 36 home runs – the long, high and arching variety (that’s his 1970 Topps baseball card pictured); and high-kicking Juan Marichal won a career-high 26 games while Gaylord Perry had 16 “greasy” wins – if you get my drift.

But that wasn’t even in their “hay-days” of the early 60’s when Mays, McCovey and Cepeda anchored their murderous line-up that also included Felipe Alou, Ed Bailey, Harvey Kuenn, Jim Davenport, and Tom Haller. Opposing players had to face starting pitchers Marichal, Billy Pierce, Jack Sanford, Mike McCormick and Billy O’Dell. With these guys they got to the World Series in ’62 but lost to the Yanks in the seventh game on Bobby Richardson’s famous diving catch of McCovey’s line drive bid for a series-winning base hit.

Those were the days. But where have you gone, Willies and Juan? You're fast becoming fading memories.

One of my sons pointed out that I was pretty tough on the current Mariners in my last post, and that he thought I tended to give the Giants a “pass”. He’s probably correct on those points, but if I indulge the Orange and Black, it’s because these old memories are hard to outlive. At the same time, I desperately want the M’s to provide some more of these kinds of memories now, and it’s frustrating when it doesn’t happen when you think it should. If you love baseball the way I do, great teams become part of your DNA – like the Giants of 1962 and the Mariners of 2001.

But now is now, and I have to be honest and say that “my” Giants are going nowhere fast. The magical era of Brian Sabean is history and now managing owner Peter McGowan is leaving after this season. Couple all that with the fact that ever since they re-signed Bonds to that last contract so he could break the HR record as a Giant, the remaining dollars only allowed a make-shift line-up of aging, albeit veteran, players.

As an indicator of how bad their lineup now is, they have the older, slow-afoot catcher Bengie Molina hitting clean-up. Yikes. He’s doing ok, but in key situations it’s very easy to pitch around him. Other aging vets joining Molina on this year’s team are Ray Durham, Rich Aurilia and Omar Vizquel, who, by-the-way, just set the major league record for games started at shortstop. They did pick-up good-hitting centerfielder Aaron Rowand and have a journeyman, Randy Winn, in right. But it’s first or second year players beyond that. They are said to have the weakest hitting lineup in all of baseball. It’s a crushing, but accurate, assessment, and with ownership/management the way it is, don't look for much improvement soon.

The only bright spots are the young pitchers who are beginning to make a name for themselves. Tim Lincecum is 6-1, and along with Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Kevin Correia, could provide decent pitching, especially when Noah Lowry returns from the DL. But the woeful hitting is going to haunt them for at least the rest of this year and for who knows how long to come.

I’ll still watch them on my “Extra Innings” cable package, but they’re being slowly shoved, I’m afraid, toward the back burner. My hope now is that the local Mariners will soon find themselves, begin playing up to their potential and provide some late Summer and early Fall excitement for the game I love.

YES! The Mariners just beat the Red Sox 4-3, on a 2-out, 2-strike base hit by Jose Lopez in the home half of the 9th. Maybe the worm has turned.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Current Mariners Ownership Has Its Head in the Clouds

After losing six straight games for at least the second time this season to make it 19 losses in the last 24 games, Seattle Mariners ownership and management apparently plans no corrective action.

Mariner president Chuck Armstrong on Friday (before the last two losses) said, “We have given no thought to making any changes in managerial personnel.” Apparently, that means general manager Bill Bavasi and field manager John McLaren have some job security for the moment.

In my opinion, this is not the way championship teams operate. With winners, if you have a problem, you fix it. Do you think that George Steinbrenner or John Henry would sit by and do nothing if the Yanks or Red Sox were in a similar malaise? You bet not.

Bavasi said yesterday that his analysis of what’s wrong is that the current ills are more of a player issue than a field managerial issue. He cited an overall lack of player leadership and a clubhouse that can’t “police” itself. Well, if Bavasi and McLaren are not the problem, and will continue to be coddled by spineless ownership, many of us fans think that something – anything – needs to happen.

Here’s my humble suggestion: Trade somebody quickly (or get rid of them, if untradeable), eat their contract, and make a statement that more heads will roll unless things change. Names like the lackluster Richie Sexson or the inept-so-far Miguel Batista come rapidly to mind. Continuing to wallow in the murk of the status quo is foolish and ridiculous (assuming one wants to win).

Out of Spring Training this team was touted (by this same management) as potential division winners. Right. How does the worst record in MLB, as of today, sound?

The problem also is that the Mariners brass could be as bad a judge of talent as there is in all of baseball. A journeyman team could be fielded with current ex-Mariners. Gil Meche and Joel Piniero are in starting rotations for the Royals and Cards. George Sherrill is developing into a great closer for the Orioles (he was a set-up guy here). Miguel Olivo and Jorvit Torrealba are hitting walk-off home runs for Kansas City and Colorado. Adam Jones is a hit with the Orioles (he's hitting over .300 at home -- quite a bit less on the road), and Randy Winn is doing just fine with the Giants. Even older cast-off Jamie Moyer, for crying out loud, is still starting with Philly. And that excludes, in years past, giving up Junior and Carlos Guillen in trades, and losing A-Rod to free agency (all of which could be argued, admittedly, as decent transactions for the M's at some level). To cap things off in the talent mis-judgement category, the M's did not draft pitcher Tim Lincecum (6-1 so far this season with the mediocre Giants) out of their own backyard at UW two years ago (they took Brandon Morrow from Cal instead).

Should we go on?

I’m aware that living in the past does no good either. All we can do is change the future. But it requires some decisions and some action.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I Still Love Baseball

I subscribe to Comcast’s “Extra Innings” so I can watch (on our big screen) any Major League Baseball team anywhere they play, if they are televised that day. Well, that’s almost true.

I really subscribe mostly so that I can watch my favorite team of all time, the Giants. This year they are celebrating their 50th year in San Francisco, having arrived there from Gotham due to the foresight of then owner, Horace Stoneham.

Actually, I became a Giants fan seven years before that, when Bobby Thompson hit the “shot heard round the world,” culminating one of the greatest, if not the greatest, comebacks in baseball history to win the National League championship.

We listened to that game live on a portable radio (plug-in, in those days) that we snuck into Mrs. Nordstrom’s 8th grade class (poor lady never knew until we ran out into the hallway screaming with celebration). I had followed the Giants’ six-week saga daily in the Chicago Tribune, each morning getting the news of the previous day’s game.

In mid-August of 1951, they were 13 games out of first place where the hated Dodgers (then of Brooklyn) were well entrenched. They won an amazing 37 out of the last 44 games, including a 16-game winning streak AND a 12-game streak, to tie the Bums on the last day of the season. Thompson’s shot culminated a three-game playoff. It was the second-best run to the pennant in history (the Cards won 38 of 44 in 1942, but they only had to close a 10-game gap). And there was no “shot heard round the world”.

This year, neither the Giants nor the Mariners (my adopted local team) are doing well. The Giants are 10 games under .500 and the M’s are 12 games under. Both are already 9-1/2 games behind division leaders, and summer is still a month away.

But both can take heart from the Giants’ incredible 1951 season. On May 1 of that year, the Giants were nine games under .500 and still won the pennant. But they got it going by mid-May that year, and neither team has rallied yet this year. In fact, if first (full) year Seattle manager John McLaren doesn’t find some magic for the team pretty soon, I think he could be out. The Giants, on the other hand, are beginning to show signs of playing better. Without Bonds’ big bat, they’re struggling to find their way. Finally getting all-star shortstop Omar Visquel back has resulted in some good wins of late.

I still love baseball, the greatest sport ever created (and I think the statement is defendable). And I didn’t even talk about Willie Mays, the best ever, in my opinion, the guy who could do it all. BTW, can you name all six of the Giants greats pictured at the top?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Post Script Re: Mega Church Changes

Apparently there’s more to the saga of the changes going on at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, better known as the “poster child” of “seeker-sensitive” ministries.

In the previous post we gave a nod to the church and its Pastor, Bill Hybels, for having the chutzpah to map out changes in their program-driven worship practices that are based on the results of a self-conducted survey of its members and six other similar congregations. As mentioned in the last post, these findings have been widely reported in a book released last year by Greg Hawkins, Willow Creek’s executive pastor.

Among the proposed modifications are the adding of theology and Bible classes during midweek services and the re-structuring of weekend services to focus on serious Christians who want to mature in the Christian life (in contrast to past uses of rock music and multimedia to attract “seekers”).

How are they preparing to put into practice these and other fresh insights? Here’s the plan, according to Hawkins: “Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research (bold mine) and rooted in Scripture”.

It is reported that on the wall outside of Bill Hybels’ office hangs a poster that reads: “What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” These questions are consistent with the “business/corporate” approach to ministry that the church has followed but that now has become suspect.

It might be good to pause for a moment and ask: if the “new” approach to worship praxis at WC is going to be influenced by more research on what people think they want, many, like myself, will be prone to ask, “What has been learned?”

A basic course on the historical Church would reveal that the Church, local or catholic, is not “consumer-driven”. Instead, many, myself included, believe it is the living organism through which we worship God and by which He speaks to us, guides us, and teaches us to live according to His revelation.

My hope and prayer is that lessons have been learned, and that the changes will be a step toward developing Christian maturity. I must admit to some concern, however, that this wonderful congregation might be commencing to sing just another verse of the same song.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mega Church Admits Flaws; Makes Mega Changes

Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois has been sort of the national “model” for “seeker-sensitive” churches – ones that cater to people “seeking” to learn about the Christian faith.

In order to make Christianity more “window-candy-like,” to attract casually interested people to enter its doors, Willow Creek, and others like it, incorporated talented, upbeat Christian “rock” musicians, entertaining multi-media extravaganzas, and pop-culture sermons to fill the pews.

The “seeker” concept apparently worked so well that the Willow Creek “Association of Churches” was formed to train and foster the “seeker-sensitive” methodology in other locations across America. For about 30 years, Willow Creek and other imitating mega-churches have been the talk of the evangelical world.

Until last year, when the book, Reveal: Where Are You? co-authored by Willow Creek executive pastor Greg Hawkins, hit the bookstores. The volume revealed the discouraging results of a self-conducted survey taken among Willow Creek Church and six other similar congregations. You can read here what the periodical Christianity Today said about the study in an editorial.

Among other shortcomings in its decades-old practices, the church found that the “seeker-sensitive” people rarely followed a path to deeper faith, while at the same time those who did have a more mature faith felt “stalled” in their faith growth and were “dissatisfied”, with many considering leaving the church. Not at all what church leaders had expected, the survey results, however, confirmed what many other pastors and theologians had suspected.

To their extreme credit, Willow Creek had the fortitude to take the initiative, discover and begin to deal with the issues. Beginning soon, if not already in practice, weekend services will focus on “mature believers seeking to grow in their faith.” Midweek services will now offer classes on theology and the Bible. Imagine that – studying the Bible in church! How revolutionary!

I need to immediately stifle my facetiousness, and be thankful for the anticipated effects of what this group of churches will be doing from now on. But I do admit to having been on the questioning end of things from the very beginning. The simple fact is that the gospel and Christianity have little or nothing to do with “popularity” or with giving people what they think they want or with making them feel good for a few hours.

The gospel is the gospel, and the church is the church. It has been unchanged in purpose and function for two millennia. It is the Holy Spirit’s work that causes people to “seek… the kingdom of God”. We can’t possibly “package” the Christian message better than the Canon does nor think that we can do the compelling work of the Holy Spirit.

I’m pretty sure that’s why I, along with my wife, have found a reality of faith in the mainline church that we had not known is there. In contrast to rock bands, dramas and trendy power point sermons, all we do is sing simple hymns of the faith, read the Scriptures, recite and validate the ancient creeds, partake in the Sacraments, and listen to sermons based on Biblical texts.

We are thereby refreshed and then sent to live out God's grace by serving those in the world around us. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Latest By Our Son Doug

Part of remaining on tenure course, when you teach at the university level, is that you must publish. And publish some more.

Our son Doug teaches theology at Seattle Pacific University and during the past several years has written numerous articles and papers for a variety of publications, both academic and popular. Additionally, he has written chapters in theology books in cooperative authorship with peers as well as with other scholars.

But now, in addition to the above, he has authored a treatise in theology. If you do a book search by author (Douglas M. Koskela) on "", up comes his book, Ecclesiality and Ecumenism, with the subtitle, Yves Congar and the Road to Unity. Almost sounds like a novel.

But it doesn’t read like one. It’s pretty heavy theological “stuff”. Here’s his pic and a description of the “plot”, both from the back cover:

“This book explores the contributions of the French Dominican theologian Yves Congar on the question of ecclesiality ('churchliness' in the catholic sense) with an eye to their ongoing ecumenical potential.” The volume articulates Congar’s “fresh reflection on what makes the church legitimately the church” that holds considerable promise for revitalizing efforts toward Christian unity.

Ecclesiality and Ecumenism is an unabridged version of Doug’s Ph.D. thesis, and it has been nuanced a bit to appeal to a wider audience. Understanding the topics that he probes has in recent years become very critical, especially with the ecumenical gestures made by the current and previous Popes. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI is cited in the book. says the book is “temporarily out of stock”. Yikes, there must have been a run on it. However, I know for sure you can buy it here if you’re interested. It’s definitely worth a read, and, o yes, have a glance at the dedication page.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Our Niece Kate Attends White House Correspondents Dinner

Our niece Kate Keethler was in attendance two weekends ago at the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C., which is actually held not at the White House but at the Washington Hilton Hotel. In the top photo she is pictured with her mom’s favorite media mogul, Martha Stewart, and just above with former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich.

Kate works in Chicago for the online division of The Washington Post and Newsweek magazine and was rewarded for outstanding work performance with a trip to the Dinner. From what we hear, she had a fabulous time and got to meet some “fairly well-known” people.

Scotsman Craig Ferguson of Late, Late Night fame on CBS, who recently became a U.S. citizen himself, hosted the event which was attended by nearly 3,000 media people.

And also from what we hear, Kate's career with the Post organization is really taking off. Go Kate!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Wanna Play (Miniature) Golf Online?

Today, it’s time to have some fun. My cousin in Chicago emailed me this online miniature golf game that can be a lot harder than it looks.

Click HERE to play the game.

Of course, as with any online game, once you get the hang of it, it gets a bit easier.

Have fun! But be careful; it can be addicting.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

LA Weekend Post #3 – A “Wicked” Saturday Night at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater

We walked among the sidewalk Stars of Buster Keaton, Jackie Gleason and many others on Hollywood Boulevard last Saturday night as we made our way to the historic Pantages Theater right near Vine Street, where we saw the stage play/musical Wicked for the second time.

To parody a famous quote, “Wicked is (even) better the second time around”. And, it is nuanced.

Since we saw the play in Chicago last year, the script has changed significantly – and all for the better. It is funnier, more engaging, has more dialogue and the plot is clearer. All of us thought the Hollywood version was superior to the Midwest version of a year ago.

Wicked is the prequel to the Wizard of Oz. We learn how Glinda becomes the Good Witch and how the green-skinned Elphaba becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. And we also learn that the Wizard has some deep, dark secrets in his past. If I’m correct, we also caught a glimpse (actually heard only a cry) from baby Dorothy as the play ends.

The gorgeous and spirited Megan Hilty plays Glinda and carries the show. Both she and Eden Espinosa (Elphaba), pictured, have incredible voices. The musical is based on a novel by Gregory Maguire and on a book by Winnie Holzman. Music and lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz, most noted for his work in Godspell.

Wicked is a wonderfully entertaining show and gives you plenty of fodder for later discussions about “good and evil”. I give it FOUR stars and a “thumbs-up”.

Monday, May 05, 2008

LA Weekend Post #2 – A Visit to the Getty Center, An Incredible Philanthropic Gesture

On Saturday (see previous post for intro) we all drove to the newer Getty Center, located on a magnificent hilltop campus just north of Brentwood along Interstate 405. And if you can believe it, the entire facility is FREE, fully supported by the J. Paul Getty Trust.

At the Getty Center that we visited (there is also the Getty Villa in Malibu) we found an expansive, open campus with panoramic views of Los Angeles, and we saw the incredible Getty Museum's collection of Western art from the Middle Ages to the present (top pic is one of the art museums) . Amidst it all are the beautiful three-acre Getty Gardens created by Robert Irwin (photo below).

Over a million visitors a year enjoy this magnificent philanthropic gesture by the J. Paul Getty Foundation. We noticed virtually every race and socio-economic class among the guests, and the Getty Foundation is to be congratulated and acknowledged for making these cultural gems and icons available to all.

When have you last been anywhere you could view original paintings by Van Gogh, Cezanne and Monet in one location? Here, you can do so at no cost! That's my available-light snap of Van Gogh's “Old Man in a Military Costume” shown.

However, I should point out that the parking does cost $8, but you enjoy a gorgeous tram ride from the parking lot up to the campus as a side bonus. The Getty Center, in our opinion, must be the most understated and underrated public museum and destination anywhere.

It’s a cultural treasure, to say the least. One more L.A. post tomorrow on our Saturday evening visit to the Pantages Theater in Hollywood to see Wicked.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

One Incredible Weekend – Virgin America, City Walk at Universal City, the Getty Center and the stage play/musical WICKED in Hollywood

We’re back at home after a whirlwind weekend in Los Angeles, compliments of my son, Doug, and his wife, Jamie, our daughter-in-law.

We flew on Richard Branson’s Virgin America, and it is truly an adventure into the future. Check the Star Wars-like cabin interior in the photo. But the big thing is that you have your own personal multi-media computer/screen on the back of the seat in front of you. You’ve gotta try Virgin America soon if you haven’t already.

Doug put together the weekend for his mom in celebration of her May 1 birthday. She got to pick every venue and chose extremely well. Last year Doug took his dad on a four-park midwest Major League Baseball tour in which his brother Gregg joined us to make a memorable excursion for dad and sons.

This year the focus was on mom, and I got to go along as a happy accompanier. As an added wonderful bonus, Kay Lynne’s brother, Rick (a birthday on May 2), and his wife, Danielle, flew out from Chicago to join us for the two-plus days in LA. We stayed at the Hilton Universal City, an incredibly good experience in hospitality. The photo above is of the six of us just after breakfast this morning at the hotel. (L to R) Jamie, Doug, Danielle, Rick, Kay Lynne and moi.

Doug could easily have been highly successful in the travel business, but instead he’s a theology professor (well, technically, an assistant professor) who just had his first book published (I’ll post about that in the near future).

Friday night we ate at the Daily Grill in City Walk overlooking Universal City Studios, and we went to the incredible Getty center on Saturday afternoon before the stage play. More posts to follow on the fabulous weekend in Los Angeles. But we miss our dog Buddy – he’s still at the kennel until morning.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Pet Chicken Leaves Its Mark

When we were at my son and daughter-in-law's place in the Oregon’s countryside early last week, a neighbor of Gregg and Elaine’s stopped by with her pet chicken. I guess I’m pretty much a city boy, and maybe that’s why I’ve never seen a chicken in the house before.

The photo shows our granddaughter Talli holding the (undersized) chicken as the bird scrounged for any tiny crumb that might be in her hand. Click on the photo; it may appear a bit larger.

Several months ago, the neighbor had “rescued” the emaciated chick from certain impending starvation, and, of course, from that point on, the chicken bonded with her and will not let her out of its sight. A touching story, but it has its drawbacks.

Just prior to me snapping the photo of Talli with my phone cam, Elaine was holding the chicken. Our five-year-old granddaughter, Aubrey, suddenly yelled, “Look, the chicken is laying an egg.” Well, at first it did look like an egg, but it turned out to be a “softer boiled” variety. Everyone simultaneously grabbed for paper towels.

Turns out, the chicken does lay eggs occasionally, but this time she had left her mark in a different way.