Thursday, December 25, 2008


So, today is Christmas Day, and we have tried with some limited success to scale back our giving and receiving (we did scale back our giving more successfully). As my faith as changed in the last few years, it has become very obvious to me that how I was used to doing Christmas was not how I want to do it in the future. I have spent my holidays bowing down to consumerism, and not to the God I believe in honor of the birth of his one perfect incarnation. I want to change that.
Some things really influenced me this year: the website Advent Conspiracy sums it up a lot of it pretty well. In a world that remains in spots hungry, without water, without medical care, we celebrate the birth of a poor child by spending money. Our house church adopted families again through Share Your Christmas, which was great and I was able to actually deliver to our family in the projects in a really bad part of Durham. Our family was a 28-year-old single mom and her 6 kids. And with Maggie's birth, I've really thought about how we teach her what we believe Christmas is about without being a Scrooge. Hopefully we can have a nice, traditional, fun Christmas without going overboard, diverting some our gift giving to those in need, and including her in our projects to help others.
We are lucky enough to have my family down for a day and now Debbie's family here from all over the country (Seattle, Tacoma, Champaign, and Mebane - the last two can rhyme if you try really hard) and I think the sermon at Duke chapel put that into perspective. On Christmas, we choose to spend time with certain people, and that's a way we love tham. And that's the story of Christmas: that God chose to be with us. I think that is simple and beautiful. I hope we can continue to choose to be with our family and friends, and start to choose to be present to those around us in need.
The Christmas stories in the Bible are set up to show how Jesus birth and subsequent life started a revolution against the powers of the day (Matthew's version set Jesus against Herod and Luke sets Jesus against Ceasar). I hope our lives and our Christmas' can be part of a revolution against consumerism, poverty, fear, and hopelessness.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Five from 2008

Okay, I had a really hard time with music this year. I agree it was a bit of a down year, and an earlier post expressed my mid-year frustration with quality listens. Since then I have spent a lot of effort trying to listen to what others thought was good, and think I came up with a solid top 5.
  1. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes: The one critically acclaimed album that I really liked this year. My wife asked me what kind of music it was. I would call it prog-folk/pop-rock. It's mellow but emotional and interesting. And my panel of one baby thinks it is anthralling.
  2. Tift Merritt - Another Country: Partially biased by her 2 live performances we saw this year and influenced by her amazing voice, Another Country comes in at #2. Lots of diversity on her third album, adding on her country and soul base with some singer/songwriter type-trackas, but much deeper than her previous efforts even without the 1 or 2 really catchy tracks.
  3. Dave Finch- Colors: Biased by family and friendship ties, but I enjoyed Dave's album as much as any this year. One of the hallmarks of music I like is emotion; this effort is brimming with it. Showing influences from Coldplay to Nirvana to 80s arena rock, this truly independant effort was worth the wait.
  4. My Morning Jacket- Evil Urges: I hated this album the first time I heard it, but it ended up being the one that stuck in my head most this year. From the opening guitar in the title track through to the outstanding ballads, I learned to love it all. Even the falsetto.
  5. Chatham County Line IV - Just another solid album from the local bluegrass(ish) band.
Other Favorites:
  1. I loved Skinny Love from Bon Iver, even though the rest of the album is a complete drag. Sorry every official list that loves it.
  2. Brandon Heath's Give Me Your Eyes was one of my favorite songs this year, and certainly my favorite officially religious song.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Would you like a Coke? Yes, Please I'll take a Diet Dr. Pepper.

I love this map....

Fairly accurate in my experience. I grew up using either Coke (mostly) or Soda (some) or Drink (a bit). The first time I heard Pop was from a friend in college from Western PA. College really does open up the world to us, doesn't it?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Blog Preview

Well, between having a baby and being sick, there has not been a lot of activity. I have a lot of blogging going on in my head, so I plan to blog on the following topics when I get a few minutes:
  • Hokie Season Recap
  • Top 5 Albums of the Year
  • Evolving Thoughts on Christmas
  • Why a House Church is Right for Me (Right Now)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day Thoughts

Everyone I know is really excited for election day today, and I'm right in line with that. Before I go back to work tomorrow, I thought I would jot down a few of my thoughts.

  • I really, really wanted to bring Maggie so she could say that she attended election day when (hopefully) a non-old white guy candidate is elected president. I have nothing against old white guys (as I pretty much am one), but it is exciting that the doors are open for others, including my daughter.
  • I voted for a third party candidate in a major position for the first time ever. I've always been reluctant to "throw my vote away", but I was sick of the major party candidates and, when I researched, thought the libertarian really was the best choice. I in fact voted for a couple republicans, a libertarian, and lots of democrats in the partisan races.
  • I wish there was a viable third party candidate for US Senate, because Dole has been ineffective and her campaign was offensive. However, I was not impressed by Hagan. I hate to vote against someone, but I did.
  • I would have voted for a McCain/Obama ticket or an Obama/McCain ticket before I voted for either of the choices we had. I think both are good men who have a lot to offer our country.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Welcome Maggie

Margaret Ione McDowell was born 3:57 pm on Wednesday, October 29. She weighed 7 lbs 7 inches and was 2o inches long. Mom and Maggie are doing well and Dad is very proud of both of them. For more pictures, go to

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hokies Get Corn?

With 5 tentative weeks left until the baby comes, I was able to take a trip that is a dream for a college football fan, to see the Hokies play the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln. One of my roomates from grad school, Gary, went to Nebraska and has season tickets. 20 minutes after the series was announced, Gary e-mailed me offering me a ticket if I would give him a ticket in Blacksburg (next year). So I as able to go with Gary and his wife Tonya (another friend and onetime roomate at NC State).

I don't know if I could have had a better trip. The fans in Lincoln are fantastic. While a few students gave me a hard time, there were probably 100 fans who stopped and asked if I was having a good time and to make sure everyone was being hospitable. I was invited to tailgates, asked questions about Blacksburg, the Hokies, Coach Beamer, etc. While they were excited about the Huskers, they were polite and friendly. I hope we (Hokie fans) can evolve into as good of a fanbase. As memorial stadium accurately reads "Through these gates pass the greatest fans in college football."

We started our tailgate around 1pm, at a Nebraska tailgate with friends of Gary's sister and brother in law. They had smoked 20 racks of ribs the day before and reheated them on the grill. We also had a few beers at Lazlo's so we could catch the scores later in the afternoon. A trip to the bookstore (so I could buy a red "Got Corn?" t-shirt) and tour of the stadium completed the pre-game festivities.

The game was one of the most exciting games I've ever been to, with the Hokies hanging on to win 35-30. Stephen Virgil blocked a punt for a safety. Macho Harris had several great punt returns and a beautiful interception. Tyrod Taylor had his best game all season, Darren Evans continued to have a nose for the endzone with 2 touchdowns, and Dustin Keys was 4-4 on field gols as the Hokie offense stalled in the redzone. The defense played great until the end, and stopped the Huskers exactly enough to win in crunch time. A late hit on Taylor out of bounds and a subsequent un-sportsmanlike conduct penalty on Nebraska coach Bo Pelini set the Hokies up for the final score (Taylor TD on a 1-yard rush) to seal the Hokie victory.

One of the game officials had the same flight back from Omaha as I did, and I was able to talk to him for a few minutes in the Chicago airport. I asked him what Pelini said and he said "whew, a lot of stuff."

Friday, September 19, 2008

Best Tailgate of the Year

I was able to buy a lot 1 pass on the for the Georgia Tech game last weekend. Here are some pictures of the tailgate that resulted. You can also see the baby's first celebrity sighting on her blog here. We had a great tailgate with prepared food from Kroger. We had a few friends drop by, including Pam with her Hokie bike that Stork fixed up for her. The Hokies won 20-17, even though GT outplayed them in many areas, VT won the turnover battle 3-0 and blocked an extra point. Freshman RB Darren Evans looked great, running for 94 yards and 2 TDs.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

50th Anniversary Celebration

This weekend, we were in Richmond for my parent's 50th wedding anniversary. My sisters put together a great celebration (I admittedly coasted on this one), and lots of my parents friends and family were able to come despite the bad weather. Unfortunately, we could not have it outside as planned due to the tropical storm. My older sister made my folks a scrapbook with letters from many more of their friends, and my middle sister got a family portrait framed (we had an Aunt take it in June).
One of the highlights was the pastor who married my parents was able to come. At 90 years old, he was the life of the party. Rev. Langford is a hero of the civil rights movement in Virginia, I have come to find, and lost his job over it. He is also a civil war buff and gave me a lecture on the leadership failures of Jefferson Davis.
What a blessing in my life to have parents whose marriage has lasted 50 years, and what a blessing to have great voices for justice like Rev. Langford.
(More on Dr. Langford: State Legislature Resolution and bio from Va Baptist Herald.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Washington Trip

Well, it's been almost a month since the last blog post, with lots of good reasons - we were considering a job/move out west (not happening), internet usage crackdown at work, and vacation!
We spent last week visiting the Northwest one last time sans baby, with lots of fun and activity:
  • Debbie's mom and friend Maria threw her a shower (see pictures at the baby blog).
  • Visiting Melanie in Portland (including 4 hours at the VW dealer)
  • Taking the train back to Tacoma
  • My sister and her family met us out there after a week long Alaska cruise
  • Taking my sister and fam to Mt. Rainier
  • Mariners game and visiting Tim in Seattle (every one should have a Seattle tour guide like my brother-in-law - he wore plaid, has facial hair, took us to 2 funky local restaurants and gave us a preview of one of his 3 bands' album)
  • Mt. Saint Helens (amazing-everyone should go if they get a chance)
  • Kayaking in the Puget Sound in Tacoma
  • Reuniting with Lilly the Dog

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lost at the Music Store

For much of my life, I've hung out at music stores. When I got my first job in high school, My first big purchase was a CD player (a monstrous boom-box type that cost me like $400) and I pretty much blew everything I made on CDs. A lonely day in college and grad school meant a walk to Books Strings and Things, Record Exchange, or School Kids. I'm trying to slowly whittle down my CD collection, but it's pretty enormous to show for all these trips.
Last night we had a great night out in Durham with our friends Jeremy and Alisa. We ate dinner at Pop's and then went to see a free concert in Brightleaf Square. While the band took a break, we headed in to Offbeat Music (one of the few record stores still left in the world, I believe). I was completely lost.
For the first time in my life, I had no idea what I would be interested in. I looked at the new Coldplay and the new John Mayer - not exactly groundbreaking choices. I listened to the new Sigur Ros (sounds like a whale giving birth) and My Morning Jacket (didn't do it for me). I kinda want the new Old 97s, but once again, not very exciting as it sounds much like the 3 Old 97 albums I have.
I guess I'm old. Every year a group of friends and I send around our top 5 albums of the year. The last 2 years, mine has been very pedestrian. This year I think I only have one new album - my brother-in-law's (which is very good, but it was given to me.)
I'm not supposed to become lame until after the kids come, right? If anyone has an album recommendation, please let me know.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Seth's thoughts

I have referred to it before, but if there is one blog that I recommend (other than mine, and of course yours), it's Seth Godin's. He is some sort of a marketing guru/internet entrepeneur. With those titles, he would normally seem pretty uninteresting to me, but he has a lot of thoughts that apply to leadership and are also somehow (probably unintentionally) spiritual.

Here are two recent blog posts I really dig (or digg), the first about worthy living, and the second about fear.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Roman's 21:1

Do not be afraid, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Florida Keys

We're back from our trip to the Florida Keys. Here are a few pictures.
(I know the sunset picture is pretty good, but don't be intimidated by my photography skills. I went to college for 9.5 years and learned all sorts of things you can only imagine. Then my wife bought me this little digital camera. I pointed it at the water and pushed one of the buttons on the top of it.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Gotta Love Weezer

Monday, May 26, 2008

Jesus for President Blog Tour

I'm really interested in what Shane Claiborne does and writes. As I see it, he tries to live his life the way he interprets Jesus would want him to, which is a lot more than I can say for myself 95% of the time. So, I've read Shane Claiborne's previous book, and also got to see him last time he was in the area. Now I'm participating in the blog tour for his new book.

My main response to this book is WOW. Once again very thought provoking. In The Irresistible Revolution, Claiborne was focused on personal living in the light of Jesus words. It was very convicting, and presented a way to live more in tune with Christ's teachings. In this book, Claiborne and Chris Haw focus on life in American society and our current global economy.
The first two sections, are fairly innocent, providing an intro into into narrative theology. It's a great primer for those of us who get bogger down in the more scholarly writings on the subject (by the likes of Hauerwas, Yoder, Wright, and Barth). The third section is an indictment of America as compared to the empires portrayed in the Bible. I'll probably end up on some watch list for admitting I read it, but that's okay. The final section is comprised of examples of how the authors and their friends stand against the empires of capitalism, the global economy, and even the American government.
The stated purpose of the book is to re-ignite the political imagination of American Christians. I have to say it succeeds, particularly in educating people in the ways our government and society has fallen short of God's vision for the world. However, be warned that there is very little actually about voting and the election process (only the very last few pages). It is much more about living in a way that is counter to the systems in power today.
One place where I struggle with the book is in relation to the military. The authors are very anti-war, and offer to help soldiers who want to get out. I am also against war, especially the ridiculous one we are in now, but wonder if there is a third way where we can be Anti-War but more respectful to our military. I know there are lots of professed Christians in the military, and I am sure that we are better off for it. They are suffering in service of our country.
There is an actual physical tour that hits Raleigh on July 22 at First Baptist Church-Wilmington Street (Across the street from the Capitol). I can only imagine what's going to happen. For more info on the book and tour go here or here.

The Story of Stuff

Somehow, I ran across this little film on the internet. I disagree with a few points (ex. I don't think companies move manufacturing to Asia to skirt environmental laws, except sometimes environmental compliance is cheaper in third world countries), but over-all it's pretty thought provoking.

Anyway, check the whole thing out (it runs about 20 minutes) at

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Power of Forgiveness

Last Sunday at Small Group, we took a break and had movie night, watching the documentary The Power of Forgiveness. It looks at many aspects of forgiveness, interviewing researchers who have done studies on forgiveness, religious leaders of many faiths, and people who have gone through terrible experiences (such as the holocaust or losing a loved one during the 9-11 attacks). The most moving part to me was the last story, where a Muslim father whose son was murdered by a 14-year old boy on drugs. The father completely forgave the murderer and started a foundation with the murderer's Christian grandfather (and guardian) to teach inner city kids about forgiveness.
It also explored the murder of the Amish schoolchildren a few years ago, and commented on how the faith and traditions of the Amish people made them hardwired to forgive. Even though we share the same faith, I don't feel like I'm hardwired at all to forgive. I think I generally hold grudges and try to get even, even though I want to be forgiving and know that's how I'm supposed to be. Wouldn't it be awesome if churches could be boot camps for forgiveness and our kids would grow up to be automatic forgivers?
Anyway, I thought it was a really good film. Check it out if you get a chance (I have a copy if you want to borrow it).

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Really Big News

Well the really big news is that we're expecting! Some of you already know, but we're at the beginning of the 12th week. The ultrasounds are from the 9th week, and she/he was about 2 centimeters long at that point. The expected due date is October 30th.
Being a worrier, I'm excited but also worried. Will I be a good father? Can I raise her/him to be a respectful, graceful, peaceful, joyful person that I hope that he/she will be (especially since I fail at being these things more often than not)? For those of you who pray, say a prayer for the health of our baby and that with God's help we will be great parents.
I've also started a new blog for those who are interested in following the baby news but not my incomprehensible ramblings:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Thursday, April 10, 2008


One of the blogs I enjoy is Seth Godin's . I don't know how to describe him: internet entrepreneur, marketing guru, just a guy who thinks well. One of his posts this week was on the power of story. I think he's hit on something; the times I've been happiest and most motivated in life was when I felt I was part of a story. Twice it's been a boss that really rallied us as a team and gave us a great context for our work, once it was a dream I never thought I'd achieve but persevered and pulled it out because someone else blew their shot, once it was a church where we really thought we were building something great. Right now at work, I'm wrapping up a project that's a great story (there are many heroes, villains, teamwork, setbacks, implosions, a major comeback, relationships formed and broken). It would make a good movies if there were more chemical engineers in the world; everyone else would be pretty bored. The best movies are the ones that really have a good plot and characters. My favorite TV shows are ones like Lost or Heroes, that have an overarching and compelling story.
I just finished reading Donald Miller's Searching for God Knows What. It's one of my favorite books I've ever read. I've heard Miller speak about this concept of story as well. He thinks the Bible is full of great stories because God wants us to live great stories. I like that idea a lot. We try to make the Bible a rule book or a science text book, when really it's a collection of stories. When you become a Christian, maybe the best definition is that you're attaching your story to the story of Jesus, and maybe the acid test for genuine faith is whether or not it's taking you on great journeys.
So, I'm asking myself: What's the story of my life? Of my job? My faith? Our family? and hoping these questions will bring me to new and exciting journeys.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Stephen Curry, Number 30, and Vintage Milkman Photos

The superstar of the NCAA tournament so far is Stephen Curry of Davidson. It's bittersweet for me, because it's awesome that such a fine kid from a non-traditional power is doing so great. But, he's the son of one of my childhood heroes, and he's not a Hokie (and it's not the Hokies in the Elite 8).

Growing up in the 80s in suburban Richmond, being a Hokie basketball fan was not a popular choice, but that's where my father went to school, and they were having limited success (although greatly overshadowed by the heyday of UVa basketball). The kid across the street and I played hours of backyard basketball; he usually choose to be Jeff Lamp or Othell Wilson, and I generally choose the role of Dell Curry.
Whenever I had the choice of a uniform number, I would choose #30, for both Dell and my favorite baseball player Tim Raines. I still wear number 30 for my softball team. Here are some pictures of me in intra-murals in college, circa 1992, in action and when they retired my jersey (with masking tape) at our team banquet after my senior season (we invited our girlfriends to our appartment and it was catered by KFC). Notice the Curry-like follow through (although unlike Curry I was streaky - I could can 5 jump shots in a row and not make another one for a month).

Coach Greenberg has admitted he made a mistake, but to his credit, he was the only ACC coach to make an offer (they wanted him to walk on for one year and redshirt). If Seth Curry (a HS senior this year) leads Liberty to the Sweet 16, I think Coach's 2 ACC COY awards should be revoked!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Big News!

Here is our first bit of news: we have almost finished our kitchen remodel. We got hardwood floors put in throughout the first floor, new granite countertops (including a new sink, which is a great improvement), new appliances, new lighting, and a new dining room table (with chairs). I'm particularly proud of doing all the plumbing myself. Debbie's picking out paint colors for the the living room and then I think we'll be done with downstairs.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Christianity wrong about heaven?

Here's an article from Time magazine, interviewing N.T.Wright, a British theologian I've read some of in the last few years. Even though I can't say I'm all the way with him, he brings up some good and interesting points. I was speaking with some of my friends at our house church last night about a very similar thing, and then I found this article this morning. I've had the thought the last few months about how much of our "modern" Christian thought is more about Greek and Roman religion than Jesus. (i.e. God is an angry old bearded white man who thows lighting bolts at us from his throne when we mess us). I think heaven and hell are other examples. Jeff suggested to me I read Pagan Christianity, which I will have to some day, which addresses some of these things in detail.

How much more exciting is it to take part in making the world a better place (with the support of the creator of the universe) than just to sit around and hope God sucks you out of here before things get really bad?

I have been a slack blogger recently, but I promise that there will be some good stuff here in the upcoming months. I've got a huge project at work, but there are also some big projects at home, including some renovation that I'll post pictures of in the coming days.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Isaiah 58

This week at small group, I led the group through a discussion of Isaiah 58. I knew about 4 weeks ago that I was doing this, so I read through the passage almost every day, slowly gathered information and read commentatary and tried to answer my own questions. It's a strange sensation, but I carried this passage around with me in a very heavy place while I thought about how to present it to my friends. It continues to convict me, particularly verse 11:

The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

The best I understand it, this is a promise to those who practice "true fasting" or "true religion", which is, as verse 7 states: to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

As I spend much of my life struggling for meaning and wondering what my life's calling is, does Isaiah answer me from sometime around the 6th century BCE? Am I lying in sackcloth and ashes, beating my breast while God has laid it out for me how to live my life?

Often, the Bible is confusing or worse. Sometimes it is not. Stupid Isaiah!

Career Implosion

Well, I usually don't blog about work, for good reason. But I've been working on a really big project for 5 years on-and-off and it was finally coming to fruition. We had bought a new piece of equipment and started on the commissioning. Things were going well until late Friday afternoon, when the this equipment collapsed under the vacuum we pulled on it. I wish I could post pictures, it's pretty impressive. It was our supplier's fault, and they took full responsibility, but it is still a big setback!
That sucking sound is my project going down the tubes.