5 Reasons to Love Milwaukee…Even in the Winter

Today as lacy snowflakes fell outside of my office window, I resigned myself to the fact that winter is once again upon us. I’m famous for telling people that Milwaukee is one of the most underrated cities in the United States….in the summer. Summers here are gorgeous. Winters are brutal and long. They have given Milwaukee a bad reputation. I’ve met people who think it’s cold and snowy here all year.

But I have to admit that even in the winter Milwaukee is an underrated city. Winter in Milwaukee is like summer in Phoenix. During the Phoenix summer people rush from an air conditioned house to an air conditioned car to an air conditioned store. During the Milwaukee winter it’s the reverse. We go from one heated place to another.

So here are five reasons to love and appreciate Milwaukee…even in the winter:

  1. The Third Ward. The Third Ward is one of Milwaukee’s oldest neighborhoods. It has recently undergone a renaissance. The area is filled with great, independent restaurants, bars, The Broadway Theatre Center, and unique shops. Bundle up, wear a scarf, and enjoy the old streets of Milwaukee filled with modern entertainment.
  2. Milwaukee Public Market. On the edge of The Third Ward is the Milwaukee Public Market, an open air collection of eateries, a cheese shop (What do you expect…It’s Wisconsin?!), a wine shop, florist, bakery, and chocolate shop. All local. All unique. A great way to spend a winter weekend afternoon.
  3. Milwaukee Art Museum (Calatrava). Not too long ago I was able to spend much of a day exploring all the nooks and crannies of this spectacular museum. Renowned architect Santiago Calatrava designed Milwaukee’s distinct landmark, the Brise Soleil. Inside it’s light, and warm, and filled with fantastic art. This winter I’m going to have to check out Impressionism: Masterworks on Paper.
  4. The Pabst/The Riverside/Turner Hall Ballroom. Three great venues. Limitless opportunities for fantastic live music. Although I love all three places, Turner Hall Ballroom is one of my favorite music venues anywhere. It’s a nineteenth century German ballroom that has been converted into an intimate concert setting. I have seen, amongst others, Shelby Lynne, Rocco Deluca and the Burden, Mat Kearney, and The Civil Wars (twice) in this retro-hip little space.
  5. Brady Street/East Side. Brady Street is a quirky neighborhood filled with hipsters, artists, aging hippies, and college students. It too has great independent restaurants, a wonderful neighborhood Italian grocery, and watering holes filled with regulars. Just around the corner is the Oriental Theatre, which was built in 1927 as a movie palace. The theater is filled with East Indian decor and shows independent, quirky, and artsy films. It’s a great place to escape a bitterly cold Wisconsin night and see some great art.

Milwaukee is a great place to live. Now if only we could get spring to make her appearance much earlier. In the mean time, I’ll try to enjoy my underrated city…even in the sometimes bitter cold.

If you’re from Milwaukee, what are your favorite places? If you’re not from Milwaukee, what do you love about winter time in your city?

Will We Ever Return to Pre-Modernism?

We’ve lived in a world no longer black and white for a long time now. From politics to religion we live in a world of every shade of gray. We slide deeper into the gray each and every year.

As evidence I need only to read the papers of the college students I teach. This year I took particular note. I gave the class an assignment to react to an article pointing out why one denomination was “right” and another one was “wrong.”

Wow, did I get some interesting reactions. More than ever in the past I had students angry at the author of the article. How could he judge another person’s theology? How could he judge my religion?

Even those that agreed with the author said things like, “Even though I practice the author’s religion, I respect other people for their beliefs.” There is no line drawn, no recognition of absolutes, no black and white. Have we become too tolerant?

In her book, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, Marva Dawn uses a baseball analogy to show how postmodernism works:

A pre-modern umpire once said, “There’s balls and there’s strikes, and I calls’ em as they is.” Believing in absolute truth that could be found, earlier societies looked for evidence to discover that truth. A modern umpire would say instead, “There’s balls and there’s strikes, and I calls’em as I sees’ em.” For the modernist truth is to be found in ones own experience.

Now a postmodernist would say, There’s balls and there’s strikes, and they ain’t nothin’till I calls’em.” No truth exists unless we create it.”

Even students from a conservative, Christian university straddle the fence between modernism and post-modernism. What will happen when absolutely everything is tolerated?  I fear that it will not end well.

There’s a reason that Jesus said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” He Himself is the dividing line between life and death, sin and forgiveness, black and white. And, as intolerant as it may sound, there are absolutes in life. They begin and end with God’s own Word…and with His Word made flesh.

Will pre-modernism ever make a return? Would you want it to? 

Recovering the Lost Art of Conversation

This past weekend our church celebrated All Saints’ Day. It gave me the opportunity to think about some of the people in my life who now enjoy the full glory of sainthood. For the first time in a long time I thought about my maternal grandfather.

He had a profound influence on my young life. As it usually is when one is young, I didn’t realize it until after he was gone. He died when I was in high school, and I even sang at his funeral. My grandmother selected the beloved hymn, Children of the Heavenly Father. Though my grandfather had lived an entire life here on earth, He was still a child. Of the Heavenly Father.

But while he was still living, my grandfather taught me some great lessons. He and my grandmother lived 50 miles north of us in the small town of Fond du Lac, so we didn’t often see them. When we did, it was usually for a holiday or some other special occasion.

My grandfather was a self-made man. He was a traveling salesman who sold sewing supplies. He faithfully read Time magazine. He loved listening to the Chicago Cubs on his transistor radio. He always wore a freshly pressed white dress shirt, and looked incredibly dapper in a hat. He once discovered that I didn’t have a winter dress coat, so he told me to go out and buy one…on him. It was the first one I ever owned.

But the greatest lesson I learned from my grandfather was the lost art of table conversation. My grandmother was a fabulous cook. We ate meals at the dining room table, always covered with a table cloth. We used the fine china. We ate breadsticks from a local bakery, the likes of which I have not tasted since.

Once dinner was over, even as children, we were expected to remain at the table. It was then that we “returned thanks” and spent significant time chatting and listening to my grandfather hold forth about politics, the economy, sports, and even religion. Topics like those, avoided at other dinner tables, were encouraged around my grandfather’s table.

It was during those cherished conversations that my young mind was shaped by one much wiser than I. I remember sitting enthralled…sometimes even interjecting my own thoughts and opinions. At times they were welcomed. Other times I had to be corrected. But it was always a joy as a child to participate in adult conversation around my grandfather’s dinner table.

In a world filled with screens, cell phones, and other distractions, maybe we’ve lost the art of good conversation. Maybe our children are missing out. Maybe we’re missing an opportunity to pass on the wisdom of our own years with the next generation.

How can we recover the lost art of conversation?

Top 10 Things to Do While Waiting in Line at the Apple Store

Have you walked by an Apple Store recently? Please tell me if you see one without a line out the door. Steve Jobs created things for us that we didn’t even know we needed or wanted. The devices sold at the Apple Store have made life more convenient, brought us closer together, and put power in the palm of our hand. Wish I would have bought Apple stock ten years ago.

I was there the other day to get my new iPhone 4S (yep…I waited almost a week to take the plunge; and, yep, Siri is incredible). I had to wait in a short line. While I waited I was amazed at the reactions of people as they were trying to get into the store. It’s incredible how rude and impatient people can be.

As I stood there waiting, I did my best to smile and be pleasant. I also came up with a creative exercise. As I waited I thought about the top ten things to do while waiting in line at the Apple Store:

  1. Count the number of times you hear the name “Steve Jobs.”
  2. Listen in on a one-to-one coaching session.
  3. Dream up your own app.
  4. Make up the background stories of Apple Store workers.
  5. Marvel at the vastly different types of people who buy Apple products.
  6. Take in the cacophony, and try to pick out a conversation.
  7. Watch a video on a high definition computer monitor.
  8. Discuss the finer points of upgrading your iPhone with others in line.
  9. Imagine the store painted all in black, instead of all white.
  10. Use your old iPhone’s stop watch to clock your time in line.
What would you do if you had to wait in line at the Apple Store?

7 Reasons Playoff Baseball is Perfect in Person

I have been a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers most of my life. I still vividly remember when they moved from Seattle to Milwaukee in 1970. I have stuck with them through thick and thin…mostly thin. The construction of Miller Park brought hope to the Milwaukee fan base. We thought it would generate the revenue to field a contender. When the construction was almost complete fans were invited to come and sign the last piece of the stadium that would be put into place high in the rafters. I signed my name and wrote: “World Series here we come.” But the years of futility continued.

I wasn’t able to go to the rare postseason games in 1982 or 2008. Instead, season after season I enviously watched fans of the Yankees, Red Sox, and others on postseason TV living and dying with their teams. I always wondered what it would be like to actually sit in the stands for the most meaningful games of a baseball season.

This past weekend I finally had the chance to attend a Brewers’ postseason game. What a game it was. The 4-1 Brewers win was one of the most incredible sporting events I have ever attended. Even a casual baseball fan would have loved the atmosphere. Since seven is the number of “perfection,” here are seven reasons why:

  1. Mood and Attitude. Already on the walk through the parking lot there was an electricity in the air that was far more evident than a regular season game. People were happy and amped up for meaningful baseball in Milwaukee.
  2. Bunting. Not the type where a hitter dribbles a batted ball in front of home plate…the red,white, and blue kind. You don’t see that kind of bunting in a regular season game. It signifies that something special is happening. Something is different.
  3. Fan Unity. Playoff baseball crowds are more unified than maybe any other segment of society. The home town fans are all cheering for the same team. Nobody cares who’s Republican or Democrat, Christian or Jewish, black, yellow, or white. A home run means high fives all the way around with perfect strangers.
  4. Educated Fans. When I attend regular season games I refuse to participate in “the wave.” It’s for amateur fans who aren’t paying attention to the game. Not once did anyone try to start the wave at the playoff game. Everyone was hanging on every pitch, too “busy” to start the silly wave.
  5. Championship Banners and Field Markings. The new banners and markings on the field meant that the goal of the 162 previous games has been met. There is no mistaking that it is the post-season.
  6. Importance of Every Pitch. The stakes are much higher. The strategy is amplified. Every hit, error, and throw could mean a change in momentum, a win, or a loss. It’s the ultimate “reality entertainment.”
  7. The Roar of the Crowd. The cheering is great at regular season games. But watch a baseball leave the park during the playoffs, and the roar is deafening.

Leaving Miller Park with a first-game win in a five-game series put a bounce in my step the rest of the weekend. There’s almost nothing like that kind of exhilaration…at least not for a baseball fan like me.

What’s been your most exhilarating experience at a public event?

Embracing Change (Even Facebook Change)

Maybe it’s just my personality, but I enjoy change.

Even Facebook change.

This is probably the fourth iteration of Facebook that I have passed through since I first joined the social media giant. Every single time there has been an explosion of protest. Every single time it takes about two weeks for people settle in, learn the changes, and completely forget what they were complaining about.

The thing that really surprises me about the current outcry is the people who are crying the loudest. It seems to me that the most vocal complainers are the ones typically associated with pushing for change in other areas of life: young people; those in their late teens to late twenties.

It just goes to show that change is difficult for most everyone. If you take someone out of his comfort zone, if you mess with her status quo, if you make an alteration in what he expects, well…then you can expect to hear about it. You may even lose a fan, customer, or church member.

Change must be crafted carefully and gently by those making the change. But I believe that those on the receiving end of change have the opportunity to respond and react in ways other than crying, whining, or complaining about it.

When my new Facebook screen popped up, I embraced the change and took five steps. These five steps can help in the face of any kind of change:

  1. Accept it as a challenge. I saw the new lists, groups, and sidebars, and started exploring. I did a bit of research on the internet. I wasn’t going to let Facebook defeat me. I was going to accept the challenge, overcome the obstacles, and conquer that which I feared.
  2. Learn from it. The new Facebook provided me the opportunity to learn and discover things that could help me navigate my way around the change. It helped broaden my perspective and open my mind to new possibilities and ideas with this wonderful tool for communication.
  3. Discover the benefits. I learned that with the new Facebook there is an emphasis on pictures (which I really like; who doesn’t enjoy looking at pictures?), a new way to group people so that I can more closely follow certain groups of friends, family, or acquaintances, and an up-to-the-moment “ticker” of what my friends, family, and acquaintances are doing. It’s cool stuff that adds a whole new facet to this tool.
  4. Help others. When there is change there is always someone who will need help getting along with that change. One of the first things I did was share a link on my “wall” that provided information about some of the new Facebook features. People appreciated it. One person even commented that she wished Facebook itself would have provided such a learning tool.
  5. Be prepared for more change. On the heels of rolling out the new Facebook format, its founder (Mark Zuckerberg) announced that there will be another new feature rolled out shortly. It’s called the “timeline.” It’s a complete revamp of the profile page, and will allow people the opportunity to create a personal online history with words, pictures, and videos. The possibilities are incredible. But, of course, people are already complaining about this coming change.

Following these five steps presents a whole new, positive way to receive and embrace change. The next time you face major change in your life, I dare you to try it.

What’s your best tool for dealing with change?

10 Awesome Apps for Your Smartphone

It’s always fun for me when people share their favorite smartphone apps. It seems I always learn something new, find a cool way to get something done, or discover a way to enhance my work or make it more efficient.

Here are ten apps that I really enjoy and use often. Maybe you’ll find something new here, something to help you in your daily workflow, or a way to enhance your hobby or leisure time.

  1. Google App. It’s just Google. But the really cool thing about it is it’s voice recognition software. Speak into your phone and whatever you say will be “googled.” I’ve used it more frequently than I’d care to admit.
  2. Creative Whack Pack. I used to own the physical deck of cards. Now I just shake my phone and it gives me a whack on the side of the head to stimulate my creativity. It’s a virtual deck of 84 cards that gives thinking strategies and questions to get you going.
  3. Shazam. Have you ever found yourself in a place where you heard a song in the background and really wanted to know the title and artist? Open up Shazam, let your phone “listen,” and it will tell you both the title and the artist. It will even give you links to purchase the song if you like. And it’s free. Amazing.
  4. ESPN ScoreCenter. This app does what you’d expect it to do: It gives you the scores for all the games. You can even set it for your favorite teams. But what I really like about it are the in-game alerts. When your favorite team (or their opponent) scores, you will receive an immediate alert and the circumstances. I love it when it tells me that Prince Fielder has hit a home run with Ryan Braun on base.
  5. Yelp. Yelp is an app that will tell you all the nearby coffee shops, gas stations, drug stores, and banks. But what I use it for is a guide to local restaurants. With the help of Yelp (I’m a poet and I don’t even know it) I have found incredible restaurants in cities other than my own. It was really helpful when I found myself in New York City surrounded by hundreds of restaurants. The reviews (sometimes to be taken “with a grain of salt”) are especially helpful.
  6. HeyTell. Without signing up for an account you can instantly communicate with friends and family. HeyTell turns your smartphone into something resembling a walkie talkie. It comes in handy for quick conversations on the run. Try it. You’ll love it.
  7. Instagram. Instagram is a new kind of social media, allowing you to share fun, quirky, and unique photos on almost any other social media platform. Instagram is its own platform, too. You can connect with others who use it, and see the wonderful photos your friends (both near and far) take and and share. You can run your photos through filters that make them look incredible.
  8. FlightTrack. This app has been useful when I have friends or family traveling. I can literally follow them through the air while they’re flying. It instantly tells me whether the flight is on time, where it is, and even how fast it is flying at how many feet in the air.
  9. Evernote. Want to capture notes and ideas on the run? This is your app. It syncs with all of your computers. You can even cut and paste web pages with it. It’s too complex to explain in a couple of sentences. Suffice it to say that once you use it, you won’t be able to live without it.
  10. Talking Carl. You have to see Carl to believe him. Trust me. He will make you laugh. Check it out.
What are your favorite apps? Please share.

Is There Really Such a Thing as Southern Hospitality?

I’m just going to say it: People in the south are more friendly. When it comes to hospitality and kindness it seems that region makes a difference.

I’m certainly no expert in anthropology. I haven’t done any official study. This is all based on my own personal experience. I’ve spent significant time in Nashville over the past couple of years and have had experience after experience with people who go out of their way to say hello, ask how your day is going, or flash an unsolicited smile.

There is, it seems, such a thing as southern hospitality. Years ago when we moved to North Carolina with no family or friends within hundreds of miles, we were taken in, invited to lunch, and included in family reunions even though we weren’t part of the family. No offense to our northern friends, but it happened much more often in the south than it ever has in the north. It’s not a knock on the north. It’s just different.

My theory is that people in the north are simply much more used to keeping to themselves. Long winters leave them holed up in their homes more than half the year. It’s simply easier to go about one’s own business, nose-to -the-grindstone, business before hospitality.

Southern weather is a bit more palatable. People are out and amongst each other a greater part of the year. Could it be that more sun and warmer weather leads to more pleasant personalities?

Variety in human behavior is one of the things that makes travel so fascinating. It opens our eyes to new ways of living and behaving. If variety is the spice of life, then I’d like mine flavored with liberal amounts of Cajun, Mexican, and Italian.

What’s your favorite region of the U.S. to visit?

A Modern Day Pentecost Opportunity

My wife and I went to Ikea the other day. Have you ever been there? It’s a landscape littered with furniture that needs an allen wrench to be put together, inexpensive household items, and even plants and food.

The closest location to our home is in suburban Chicago. Chicago is one of the largest cities in America, and certainly one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.

That was evident in Ikea’s aisles as we heard European, Asian, and Latin languages all within a matter of a couple of hours. It was exhilarating and fascinating. Here we all were under one roof from all corners of the globe.

I’m sure most of the people who spoke in other tongues could speak English. Otherwise, how could they manage to ask questions, directions, or check out? I was reminded that I am sadly mono-lingual. I would love to speak another language (Italian would be my choice so that when I go to Italy someday I would be able to ask for a specific type of pasta without even using a menu). Americans expect that English will be spoken everywhere, and are then surprised when it’s not. In that way we are selfish.

The thought occurred to me that Ikea is a sort of modern day Pentecost waiting to happen. “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound (of the wind), a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken” (Acts 2:5-6).

The world has come to our country’s shores. Like on the first Pentecost, the nation’s have been brought to us. Even if only English is spoken there are opportunities for the Spirit to work in and through us to bring life and hope to an Ikea filled with foreign-language speakers.

The world today is small. It is connected by every new technology under the sun. It is increasingly easy to meet, and reach, and understand others, no matter their land of origin.

Ikea is a microcosm of our modern-day world. There are opportunities for Gospel-giving, Gospel-living, and Gospel-loving.

I wonder if the two Buddhist monks we saw would have been open to listening to the story of Jesus.

Where have you noticed unique opportunities for Gospel-giving?

What I Learned Waiting in Line 16 Hours for a U2 Concert

The alarm went off at 4:00…….a.m. Four of us jumped out of our beds, brushed our teeth, and ran through the lobby of the hotel to catch a cab. We arrived at Soldier Field by 4:45 a.m. There were already 181 people in line ahead of us.

Thus began the sixteen hour wait to see U2 in concert as close as is humanly possible. One learns a great deal about oneself, and about society in general, waiting in line, being herded like cattle, and feeling the exhilaration of the opening strains of a concert for which you have waited all day.

Here are just a few of the things I learned:

  • There is always someone more fanatical than you. You think we were crazy to get up at 4 a.m. to get in line? The people at the front of the line had already been there for two days. Others got there at 1 a.m. There are fans, and then there are fanatics. U2 has apparently delivered a product that creates fanatics. What would it take for your product or service to have no holds barred fanatics?
  • Self-policing only goes so far. At U2 concerts, those in the front of the line are the self-proclaimed line keepers. As early arrivers get to the line they must check in and have a number written with sharpie on their wrist. Everyone readily accepts their place in line and stays there all day. That is, until the time when the line is finally let loose and the cattle make their way down the tunnel to get onto the field for the concert. Then the entire system breaks down. It’s a free-for-all-every-man-and-woman-for-him-or-herself. If you want order in your life or organization, there must always be accountability…right up to the very end.
  • Someone will always try to scam the system. Toward the end of the day, just as we were finally getting ready to head into the stadium, two interlopers came and tried to crash the line. They wrote fake numbers on their wrists and attempted to slip in without notice. This is where the self-policing aspect of the line became very interesting. Those who had been waiting all day noticed these two rogues and from one end to the other saw to it that they were not welcome in the front of the line. Fair is fair. Sometimes it takes hard work, discomfort, and long days to achieve a goal. Those who cheat the system are cheating themselves…and making life more difficult for others. Don’t be one of those people.
  • Uncomfortable situations are made easier with family and friends. Throughout this day of waiting I was accompanied by my wife, our son, and my best friend. We provided company for one another, shared our discomfort, held the place in line for those taking a bathroom break or going to get food for lunch, and, in the end, shared the joy of finding the perfect place for the concert. When life gets uncomfortable, make sure you lean on those you love. They will be happy to support you.

  • I’m getting too old for this. A day spent in this manner takes a great deal of fortitude and patience. It was hot, uncomfortable, and tiring. At the end of the concert we sprinted to find water to drink. It may be the last time I ever attend a concert in this way. Next time I’d like a seat with my name on it. I’ll let the younger folks spend their day waiting.
That’s not to say it wasn’t worth it. As the concert began I looked at my arm and it was filled with goose bumps. The sheer joy on the faces around me as I caught glimpses of them throughout the concert were almost worth the price of admission themselves. And, I don’t care what you say, U2 puts on the best show of any band out there. If you like them at all, you must, at least once, experience them in concert with a General Admission ticket, inside the circle, within arms reach of Bono.
Who or what would you wait 16 hours to see?