Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Introducing Ethan George Hackman

Just wanted to pause on Beyond The Pale to welcome my new son, Ethan George Hackman. into the world.  Ethan was born 2 days before Christmas on December 23rd at Queen Mary Hospital at 4:13 AM; which means he's been in the world for 26 hours. (OK, it took me a few days to finish this post)

Although I always wanted to have more children, it wasn't happening and you start reaching the age where you begin to accept the fact that you are blessed to have the son you have and to live with that reality.  Then, the summer before last we were back in the States visiting our home church in Boulder Colorado and during a time of prayer a prophetic friend in the church said she felt God wanted to give us another child.  We thought, "Cool".  I mean at the ages of 43 and 38 we weren't exactly Abraham and Sarah, but if it was going to happen, it probably needed to happen soon.

In May this year shortly after our move to Hong Kong, Tammy called me and asked if I could get off work early and meet her at Disneyland.  (We live fairly close to Hong Kong Disneyland and have season passes so the request was not THAT unusual)  We met at the souvenir shop on Main Street and she handed me a stuffed "Pluto" plushie  and said, "Congratulations".  I honestly had no idea what she meant until I saw her eyes water up and nod.  Yep, she found out that morning and wanted to tell me at Disneyland. (How cool is that?)

Fast forward to night before last.  We were watching the Disney movie Enchanted and as usual, I slipped out early to fall asleep.  I had just started to nod off when Tammy came in saying her water had broke.  We grabbed our things, called a cab, and arrived at  the hospital about midnight.  At 1:15 AM with Gabriel sleepily installed in the waiting room I entered the labor room with my doctor's garb on and my "Husband" badge displayed on my chest.

When I entered the room, Tammy was already in a lot of pain.  We had requested an epidural but they needed to get the blood type thing sorted yada yada she ended up doing the whole birth on gas and a shot (which didn't seem to help that much).  Put it this way, I knew childbirth was painful...but it's hard to watch your wife in such agony, and be able to do so little except coach and encourage.

We had not decided on a name having bantered a few around for the last few months.  I was tending toward "Ethan" which is of Hebrew origin meaning "firmness".  Tammy and Gabriel were looking at the name "George" a lot wanting something more traditional and not the latest "fad" name.  Anyhow, at one point when when Tammy was in heavy pain and the mid-wife was encouraging her, she asked what the baby's name was.   I looked at Tammy a little and muttered to the nurse, "Um, we haven't really decided on a name."

At that moment Tammy nearly stood up in the saddle in mid contraction to declare, "HIS NAME IS ETHAN!"

I looked over at the nurse, "His name is Ethan..."

The baby came a few minutes later to immense joy.  Funny story though...after greeting little Ethan into the world, the nurses rushed him off to be tagged and examined.  About 10 minutes later the nurse returned with "Ethan".  He looked...different.  "Excuse me" I asked.  "This baby has a pink this our child."  The nurse looked at the tags and in horror realized her mistake as she scooted out the door.

I guess all us white people just look alike :)

Before I wrap up...I have to mention our Christmas Eve in the hospital.  Tammy SO didn't want to be in the hospital over Christmas...but things happen.  So Gabriel and I stopped at City Super (market) and got their take away prepared Christmas dinner which for some reason included lasagna and Teriyaki chicken wings along side the Virginia ham (Hong Kong diversity) and brought it up to Tammy's room along with a couple Christmas decorations.  We sat together as a family and watched "Its a Wonderful Life" on a laptop enjoying each other and our newest member.

It truly is a Wonderful Life!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Shopping with Obama and the Republicans

Its Christmas time and President Obama and the Republicans have been out shopping just for you.  Using China President Hu Jiantao's Platinum MasterCard they have bought a mountain of presents for the American people I know you're just going to love!

You got to hand it to the Republicans, when they come into power, they know how to deal. The new plan they worked out with President Obama and the Democrats will balloon the American budget deficit by a whopping ...wait for it... 1 TRILLION Dollars!

Funny then how both parties had agreed in principal to address the deficit crisis.  The Democrats of course, want to do it by raising taxes, targeted predominately at "the rich."  The Republicans in turn want the deficit to be curbed through budget cuts aimed at social entitlements.

What happened though was that in mental abyss that we like to call party politics, somehow we ended up with lower taxes renewed and spending increased.  The thinking being, "Hey, why tighten the belt and make hard choices when our Chinese friends seem more than happy to keep lending us money."

A trillion here, a trillion there, sooner or later it starts becoming real dinero.

The deficit troubles really began to hit hard when President Bush decided to engage in two wars AND cut taxes. That made as much sense as saying to my wife, "Hey Hon, let's remodel the kitchen, buy a new car, and take a vacation overseas, oh, and by the way, I've decided to go to part time at work."

Then, rather than asking the American people to stand with the soldiers fighting overseas by making sacrifices at home, the narrative from the White House was "this doesn't have to affect you much at all. Don't make sacrifices and whatever you do, keep shopping."  This just reenforced into our national psyche that important things have no cost associated to them whatsoever

The downside of a democracy with a very large credit rating is that you can use that credit rating to keep showering presents on the electorate to keep them happy.  Its like these celebrities who you find out are broke, but still live a high lifestyle for sometime.  Their perceived wealth gives them the ability to live beyond their means for much longer than the average guy.  Thats America right now.  Its living a lifestyle in really can't afford and we now need politicians that can make some of the hard choices.

Either that, or we can end up like Greece where the hard choices were forced on them against their will.

Great Britain has done it though.  Finding themselves in an even higher deficit than the U.S by percentage of G.D.P.  they have instituted an austerity program program where they are cutting 25% almost across the board over the next five years.  The people there are generally supportive of it as they see, and can appreciate, the dire consequences for them if they don't begin acting now.

Obama can't seem to make the hard choices though because he has to get himself reelected in 2012...and so the Christmas presents keep coming out...

...even though they're all Made in China!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Movies

Its that holiday time of year again! After a long day's work I enjoy nothing more than turning on the Christmas tree lights and kicking back on the couch with a glass of egg nog (OK, most likey a glass of Red) to watch a Christmas movie with the family.

I admit it; he Hackmans really are suckers for for just about any Christmas movie.
Heck, even a bad Lifetime Original channel movie with a Christmas theme will end up getting watched at our house. You know, the kind where the divorced single mother struggling to raise a couple kids suddenly has Santa Claus move in next door. After a film full of Mom trying to convince the kids there is no such thing as Santa Claus, ends up believing herself after receiving a little dose of Christmas spirit...yep, you know what I mean.

Anyhow, there are a number of classics that we really enjoy and will make for any entertaining Christmas night with you and your family.

In no particular order:

A Miracle on 34th Street:

The classic 1947 starring Maureen O'Hara and a 9 year old Natalie Wood proves once and for all; there really is a Santa Claus.  People forget this movie was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award back in the day and it still holds up 60 years later.  (But don't watch the colorized version)

Jingle All the Way:

Purists will mock me for including this one but  Arnold Schwarzenegger racing around the city on Christmas Eve to get his son a Turbo Man kills me every time.  With Phil Hartman as the lecherous neighbor and Robert Conrad as the pursuing cop the movie has become a Hackman Holiday Classic.


Will Ferrell as the human adopted by Santa's elves but journeys to New York to find his real father has become hands down the most watched Christmas movie at the Hackman house.  Tammy could watch this movie 400 times and laugh at Ferrell's character "Buddy" as if it were the very first time.

The Santa Claus:

The Disney movie where Tim Allen becomes Santa Claus after the old Santa dies falling off his roof is heartwarming, funny, and everything a good Christmas movie should be.  The sequels (both of them) are nearly as good as the first.

An American Christmas Carol:

This 1979 made for TV movie transports the familiar Charles Dickens story to Depression era America with Henry Winkler playing the Scrooge character.  I remember first watching this with my family as a young boy back when Henry Winkler was riding the fame wave as "The Fonz".  It is a wonderful version of the Christmas classic.

and finally last, but not least...

It's a Wonderful Life

The Jimmy Stewart & Donna Reed Christmas favorite shows us the value of human life, the importance of realtionships, and most importantly, how an angel gets his wings.  No Christmas season is complete without at least one viewing...

Oh, and I almost forgot:

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Yes, not technically a Christmas movie but a holiday favorite of mine none the less.  Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka is a magical feast and is in my personal top 10 movies of all time.  I'll watch it anytime...anywhere!  

Ok, that raps it up.  Now turn off those Lifetime Original Christmas movies and spend some time with the family watching  the Hackman Christmas classics!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Nobel Peace Prize puts China "On Tilt"

In the 1998 film Rounders Matt Damon narrates the subtleties of No Limit Texas Hold-up poker:

A brilliant player can get a strong hand cracked, go on tilt...
and lose his mind along with every single chip in front of him.

In poker parlance to "go on tilt" means to so frustrate a player to point where they are not playing rationally. The other players enjoy a great advantage because the flummoxed player keeps throwing good money after bad rather than mentally acknowledging they lost a big hand, cool down, and play the next hand fresh. A guy going "on tilt" can be fun to watch...provided you're not the guy.

That Matt Damon Rounders line has been ringing in my ears as I've watched the proceedings surrounding the Nobel Peace Prize award given to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo this week. The Nobel Committee's naming of Liu for the prestigious award has managed to put the Middle Kingdom into full on "tilt" mode.

China's normally restrained and carefully calculated "soft" diplomacy was thrown out the window in favor of earlier, and more proven, ways of dealing with dissent. Both Norway, and countries that sent representatives to the ceremony were threatened with future punitive actions, Chinese nationals were not allowed to travel to Oslo for the occasion, and Chinese dignitaries labeled the award to Liu "obscene" and a "political farce". In China words like "Liu" and "Nobel Peace" were censored preventing texts and Internet searches from yielding results and news broadcasting the award ceremony were blacked out.

Ironically, if China had simply ignored or down played the award, most people, both inside and outside of China, would have remained ignorant of Liu Xiaobo's existence.

So why has China lashed out so vocally and let itself "go on tilt"?

Part of the reason can be explained in that China is a "face" driven society. Most westerners see "face" as the need to give someone respect but having lived over here for many years I'm beginning to see it as a much deeper trait. It really is part of the soul of the country. The Nobel Prize, although publicly ridiculed now by Chinese leaders, is really held in high regard for the prestige it confers. And in China, prestige is paramount. The country has been trying for years to get some of its "approved" writers awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to no avail. Thus the awarding of the Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, whom the government has labeled a criminal, stung pretty bad.

China has in turn accused the whole event of being politically motivated. And you know what?

...they're probably right.

The Nobel Committee is far from being a neutral and unbiased body. Did they intend to provoke China? Of course they did and you know why?

Because they could.

Being a "face" based society makes China more susceptible to "going on tilt" as it feels compelled to respond to diplomatic slights that most Western nations can simply ignore. Hence, anytime a Western nation wants to "tilt" China, they mearly need to increase ties with Taiwan,  have the Dali Lama 'round for a Bar-B-Q, or you know, give the Nobel Peace prize to a dissident. There is no reciprocal action that China can have on the West that can provoke it. The West is not "face" based and can fall back on a yawn.

China is sitting at the big boys diplomatic poker table now but its at a distinct disadvantage. It's sincere desire to be respected in the world's eyes exposes it to pressure points that can be poked at by the other players ad infinitum.

Matt Damon goes on to say in Rounders:

Some people, pros even, won't play No-Limit.
They can't handle the swings.
China is seated at the "no-Limit" table;  it better learn to handle the swings fast because a China "on tilt" won't be fun for anyone.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Goodbye to my friend Jackie

Yesterday a friend of mine passed away.  Typically in this blog I've noted the passing of famous celebrities... but not today.  Jackie Bruce may have not been a celebrity, but to me and my family, she'll always be a star.

I met Jackie in October 2005 when I got a call from her asking if I would come in for an interview for Barnes & Noble.  They were looking for seasonal help and although I wasn't looking for a seasonal job, the holiday's were coming up, and I needed  money.

We sat in her office chatting and I knew almost instantly...I liked Jackie Bruce.  She was warm, funny and engaging and I began to see myself working at Barnes & Noble....and then she told me how much I would start at.  "We typically start our seasonal help out at $6.75 and hour." she muttered.

I froze!...I don't get out of bed for $6.75 an hour.  $6.75 an hour would be cool in say...1982, but in 2005 with a family?  I nearly (politely)  ended the interview there not to waste any of our time but the fact is I enjoyed talking with Jackie so much...I couldn't do it.  The interview ended with the usual "We'll call you" but in my mind, I was thinking "Its too bad I won't be working here."

Then 2 days later Jackie called.   I almost didn't want to answer as I didn't want to tell her "no".  But she said, "Steve, I'm not calling to offer you a job for the position you interviewed for. "

"Huh" I thought.

She went on, "Our Community Relations Manager just resigned and after our talk the other day I thought you would be great for the job."

And that's how I started working for Jackie Bruce. Three weeks later I was heading down to Jackie's home where she was hosting a Christmas party for the managerial team when my phone rang. It was another company I had interviewed with a couple months prior. They were offering me a position and a pay package that was much more than I would be making at Barnes & Noble. I got that sinking feeling inside thinking that I had just come on to this team...leaving them suddenly would be a real kick in the gut. I told them I would call them with a response the next day.

At the party I got to know Jackie's husband Rick and my son Gabriel got to be friends with their son Jack who had his bedroom decked out like Batman's lair. (Gabriel was sold) A couple co-worker's, Ben & Matt, lent me the DVDs of the TV series Firefly with the enthusiasm only we geeks could understand. As I watched the interplay of the evening I realized Jackie was the Queen and her management team didn't just work for her...they loved her and she loved them. This wasn't an obligatory work function, these folk wanted to be together and Jackie was the glue. Its then I realized I would enjoy living in a world orbiting Jackie Bruce. I called that other company the next day and declined their offer. (Incidentally, that company went out of business in 2008 during the recession...God does order our steps).

Over the next two years I got to spend a lot of time with Jackie. What I loved about her is that she could be crazy fun with a slightly perverse sense of humor and yet at the same time, be so grounded. She was one of the most secure, grounded people I have ever met. She was madly in love with her husband Rick and completely devoted to her children. At work, she was a sea of calm. I never saw her flustered or lash out at anyone. When the bigwigs from corporate would come by, she was unfazed. That's probably why they decided to promote her to a bigwig at corporate and move her to New York!

And she was kind and thoughtful.  When I developed cancer in 2007 she encouraged me at every step of the journey.  Returning  from the doctor with the prognosis that everything was going to be good she got teary eyed she was so happy.  Soon after my surgery she was visiting Tammy and I in my hospital room.  There I was, emaciated with tubes coming out my neck. She held my hand and let me know I was in everyone's thoughts and prayers.  That was Jackie Bruce!

People come in and out of your life and as much as you'd like to stay in touch, it's not always possible. With Jackie, I knew we would always keep in touch. Tammy and I planned on visiting her and Rick in New York. When I learned yesterday of her passing I looked up the last messaging we had on Facebook which is still archived. It read:

Jacqueline Bruce to Steve Hackman
You two look great. We would love to come to China for a visit. How long do you think you will be living over there?

Steve Hackman to Jacqueline Bruce
Hey Jackie!!! I'm not kidding when I say I was just thinking of you and were hoping you would get on Facebook so we could stay in touch. China has been GREAT!! Check out Hope New York is treating you well. Say hi to Rick

I know one day I'll see Jackie again in a better place. While at Barnes & Noble I became a sort of default "chaplain" at the store and Jackie I would often talk of God and her Christian faith. She once confessed to me that after she hired me she told the management team at their next meeting, "He is a bit religious..." :)

I'll miss Jackie Bruce. I have spent the last 24 hours remembering 101 good times I had with her and my old friends at Barnes & Noble. The Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows midnight launch party, freezing to death in the nosebleed seats at a Rockies game, Christmas parties, summer parties, drinks at the Purple in Jackie's world was FUN!

I have never stopped praying for the Bruce's over this last year and now I pray for Rick and the children. I pray God's grace for them at this tragic time.

I wish I could be with some of the gang from Barnes & Noble right now so we could swap stories and laugh because that's what Jackie would have wanted. Baring that, I stopped off after work at an Italian restaurant on the beach near my home. I ordered a glass of red wine, (the drink of choice for Jackie Bruce), stared out at the sea, and thought of my old friend.

Good bye Jackie, you'll be missed.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Paintball Friday!

Last Friday I and a number of teachers led the Christian youth group from our school, FUSION, to an after school session of "paintball". Paintball is that military style game where you have guns that fire paint bullets (actually a hardened talcum powder) and you essentially run around and shoot each other.

After a 45 minute bus ride we rocked up to the paintball camp which is in a rural area of Hong Kong. As we traveled I thought about how, after all my years in the territory, I am constantly amazed to find little hidden areas of Hong Kong I didn't know existed. At the top of a hill we entered the facility that, at first glace, looked like one of these camps in America where scary militia guys train to fight imaginary enemies. Makeshift firing ranges, guns on racks, military paraphernalia littered the area. These city kids weren't going to know what hit them...

We were given an intro safety meeting and then suited up with camouflage vest, riot helmet, and a very real looking M-16 rifle...the paintball version.

Our first scenario was in a maze of concrete walls and bunkers in the middle of a field. My first "kill" was a 14 year old girl. (Yeah, not exactly my proudest moment) She came out from behind a wall and I fired, hitting her in the leg. I had been told that although the "bullets" were not dangerous, they still hurt and I could tell from her reaction, getting shot was painful.

I turned a corner and confronted a friend of mine who is one of the principals at the school. We both gun jammed...his didn't. I felt this pain hit my leg and I knew I was "dead". I put my rifle over my head to declare my status and walked out of the scenario. Man, though, my leg hurt. As I write this two days later I have a fair sized bruise at the top of my leg.

That was the ONLY time in the evening I was "killed". We had subsequent scenarios in a "street" setting with cars and other hiding places to find cover in. The sun went down and a single flood light gave enough ambient light to continue.

At one point I was fighting Gabriel's team and I am ashamed to admit it, but I shot my own son. Later he said, "Papa, its like you just came out of the shadows..."

Oh yeah...suddenly all those years watching Arnold, Bruce, and Stallone 80's action movies was paying off.  Many a surprised student (and a teacher or two) were added to my 'body count" that day!

We went on to a "capture the flag" tournament which was a lot of fun and then it was time to go home. But the kids were already talking about the next time they would get to come out and, if they were lucky, possibly shoot a teacher or two.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

There are still Two Trees to choose from

Genesis 2 tells us that after God had finished the creation he placed Man & Woman in a garden he had prepared for them.  In the center of that garden were two trees; The Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil & The Tree of Life.  The only command the first couple were given was NOT to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil.

Most of you, if you had any Sunday School whatsoever, know how the story turned out.  The Devil came and tempted them, not with an outright lie, but with a twist on the truth, "For God knows that when you eat of it," he said, "your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing Good and Evil."

And you know what, they're eyes were opened, and they did become like God in that they developed their own will outside of God's will.  Now they too had the capacity to determine what was Right and Wrong apart from God...

...and we've been paying a huge price for it ever since.

Mankind was banished from the garden and hence the access to the Tree of Life... the tree we really needed to be eating from.

The Bible goes on to chronicle the misery making of the human race once we begin to decide what is right & wrong on our own.  Often there will be a passage that goes something like, "And again Israel did evil in God's sight, each man doing what he thought was right in his own eyes."  I'm sure if I asked 100 people what evil is, I would get 100 different answers but no one saying "evil is people doing what they thought was right."

And here's the crux...those two trees are still with the center of our lives. Just like Adam so many thousands of years ago,  we have the opportunity today to choose what tree we will pick from.  Although the physical manifestation of the Tree of Life only reappears at the end of scripture in Revelation 22 when describing our eternal residence, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have access to that fruit, His Life, today.

Christ was given the same test as Adam (hence why the Bible sometimes refers to him as the Second Adam). His whole life was a submission of his will to his Father's culminating in the moment of prayer he has just before the process of his redemptive sacrifice is to take place.  The fruit of the two trees is placed before him, "Father if possible, let this cup pass from me" (What I think is Right i.e. Tree of Good & Evil) "nevertheless, not my will but Your's be done." (What God says is Right i.e The Tree of Life)

Unlike Adam, Jesus chooses NOT to eat from the forbidden fruit instead choosing a faith and submission to his Father's will.

Bingo, by choosing God's will over his own he reopens our access to the Tree of Life (The Life of Christ).
Now, we no longer have to live under the curse, we can choose life once again

So OK, those trees are still with us.  His way or yours?  Which fruit will you eat today?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Aaron Sorkin and The Social Network

Aaron Sorkin and I have never met. He would have no idea who I am...and yet I have made an unofficial bargain with him. Whatever TV show or movie he writes the story for, I watch, no questions asked. A Few Good Men, The West Wing, Charlie Wilson's War, The American President...doesn't matter...Sorkin is, hands down, my favorite screenplay writer .

Sorkin's newest work, The Social Network, is the Oscar buzzing new film giving voyeurs a "fly on the wall" peak into the founding of the online site half the planet seems connected to.... including me. The movie features the snappy dialogue Sorkin has trademarked. Quick, intelligent, and really needing to be watched on DVD so you can rewind and absorb just how good it is.

OK, I digress but in the last month I've had a small handful of people compliment me on this blog. They've appreciated some of the humor, wit, and insights, and hey, I'm human; I won't pretend it doesn't stroke my ego a little. But, I'm smart enough to know that in writing terms, I'm the equivalent of the small town high school basketball star. I may be able to impress others (and sometimes myself) with the occasional swisher from the 3-point line, but when I  watch a Sorkin I realize I'm not even playing in the same league. True genius!

But I'm an Aaron Sorkin fan for other reasons. The way he sees the world, and America, is one that always inspires me. He puts so much of what he believes into his writing and I'm often watching and nodding with an occasional "Amen..preach it brother!" And its not just his views that I find compelling.  His writing often tips his hand to some of his own quirky interests. The icing on the cake for me has to be that in a particular episode of The West Wing Sorkin pretty much let it be known that the often forgotten James Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service was his favorite. Lets face it, the single outing for George Lazenby as Bond (after Sean Connery but before Roger Moore) is typically no one's favorite, except for my mother and I. Anyone who makes a point of working an affection for that Bond movie into his TV show...well...he gets my vote :)

Critically, The Social Network doesn't disappoint. Somehow watching the history of a story that most of us play a small part in makes it all the more compelling. In addition to the flawless screenplay, the casting and direction was Oscar worthy. And, is it just me, or is Justin Timberlake actually a good actor???

Anyhow, get out and see The Social Network.  It's a strong contender for this year's Best Picture award and, you're seeing it predicted first on Beyond the Pale, Sorkin will walk away with the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.

And it will be well deserved...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Jesus Culture Revival

Tammy and I were at a Denver film festival a few years back when we got into a conversation with a co-worker who was there with us.  She had recently been hired by the Westin Hotel in the city to market their "in house" restaurant.  She explained to us, "The previous marketing strategies had been aimed at convincing Denver how cool and hip it was.  The minute you have to tell someone you're're not."

That had me thinking that in today's Christian circles the churches and leaders are practically falling over themselves to market the Body of Christ as "authentic" and "relevant".  The reason we market ourselves this way is because when we lack the power of the Holy Spirit in our gatherings, changing lives and breaking the chains that bind people, we have to rely on "other" methods to convince people to come to our meetings and support our church. Slick ads showing attractive energetic people telling you how cool and relevant their church opposed to their previous Christian experience which is assumed to be, horror of horrors, inauthentic."

But I just read a great article about the Jesus Culture movement going on in Redding California at Bethel Church.  It details the revival they have been seeing and the expectation that the Holy Spirit is among us in power to bring healing and transformation.

Says Jesus Culture leader Banning Liebscer:

“Our message is whole-hearted consecration unto the Lord. It’s not that we’re just Christians, but we’ve really given ourselves to see revival in the earth. We believe that God is looking for entire cities to be saved, and He’s looking for nations to turn to Him"

"We preach a gospel of power, if you come to our events, we’re going to pray for the sick. It’s a little bit different because it’s not necessarily coming from the person on the platform. If I’m preaching, we’ll pray for the sick, but we’re having the people pray for one another."

I guess when you are talking about whole hearted consecration to the Lord, appeals to authenticity are rendered kinda moot!

As someone who became a Christian during the Jesus Movement, here's hoping the Jesus Culture makes an even greater impact on it's generation for the Kingdom of God and the church.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why the Left and the Right hate the Rally to Restore Sanity

A couple weeks ago I arrived  home late Saturday night from a great evening with friends and the family.  However rather than collapse in bed as is the norm (those that know me also know I am NOT a night person), Gabriel and I fired up the computer to catch the live feed of Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity on the mall in Washington DC.

First of all let me say...I loved it!  If I had been in America, this would have been the Rally I would like to attend.
Good music...good humor...good message!  No one ridiculous chants, just good times and celebrating America.  Sure there were a few nut jobs out there that made fodder for right wing bloggers; have a couple hundred thousand people show up and I guarantee there will be some crazies, but we should't judge the rally's message by these people.  To be fair, Glen Beck's rally shouldn't be judged by the minority of nut jobs that showed up to his.

And by making this distinction we've taken a step to "restoring sanity" ...something I am a huge supporter of.

The Rally's purpose is validated by the fact that both the Right and the Left came out to condemn it.  The Right, knowing Jon Stewart vents Left in his politics,  saw the appeal to neutrality and "sanity" as a sham and that the whole gig was nothing more than a last ditch attempt to rally "progressives" for the Democrats in the run-up to the election.

The Left, in turn, felt betrayed as they were secretly hoping that WAS the reason for the rally...and it wasn't (as the video can attest)

Let's face it, if sanity were to return to the public arena, a lot of people on both sides of the political spectrum would be out of a job.  A huge part of our economy now rests on convincing you that "those guys over there" are out to destroy everything you hold dear!

So Jon, and Stephen, you hit the bullseye.  You managed to de-fang both the Right and the Left and took us, at least for a day, on the long road back to sanity!  Cheers!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Election 2010 recap

Tuesday's election came and went leaving a result everyone pretty much anticipated. Recently I had connected here in Hong Kong with the Republicans Abroad and so received an invite to their gathering downtown to watch the GOP tide roll in.

I caught the 6:30 AM ferry from my place on Park Island and spent the 22 minute ferry ride downtown simply trying to wake up. The Whiskey Priest pub hosted the event and due to the 7:00 AM start, was ready with a buffet of eggs, sausage, bacon, hash browns, and bottomless pots of coffee. The large screen TV was tuned to Fox News (I know, I know, but it was a Republican event, what can you do) and slowly a large group of American Republican Hong Kongers (that's a mouthful huh?) filled the pub.

What struck me was that as we hooped and hollered to the results coming in from half a world away was that these guys, whom I had only just met, echoed my own sentiments about the election. Essentially the Republicans, after the spanking they received in '06, and '08, needed to do some in house surgery. Some strong, intelligent, and charismatic leadership needed to develop and a cogent policy platform that would have broader appeal needed to to constructed.

With the implosion of the Democrats in the last year, those needed adjustments have been ignored and Republicans may be deluded with Tuesdays result into thinking the American people love us again.

They don't!

Sarah Palin may have took a victory lap on Wednesday morning but she is the prime reason why the Republicans failed to win the Senate back as well as the House. Her irresponsible endorsements mobilized the Tea Party faithful around candidates of dubious quality at the expense of seasoned and proven winners.

I can't blame her though, the lack of true leadership in the party makes the likes of her and some of the other crazy talking heads possible.

There is hope on the horizon though. Guys like Marco Rubio who won his senate seat in Florida seems to be a rising star with a good head on his shoulders (that alone makes him a welcome change for the Republicans)

Anyhow, I want to finish this little take on the election with a congratulations to good friends of mine that won this week. Mike Kopp who was reelected to his state senate seat in Colorado's 22nd and to Scott Gessler who just became Colorado's new Secretary of State. Fantastic job guys!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Good Bye Tom Bosley...we'll miss you Mr. C!

Just a quick post to note the passing of Tom Bosley, or as we "over 40's" affectionately remember him as, "Mr. C' from Happy Days.  Watching Happy Days was a rite of passage growing up and Tom Bosley's sage fatherly advice was not only for his onscreen family but for many of us watching on TV as well. 

Remember, there was only 4 or 5 stations back then with everyone pretty much tuned to the same show; and for us, Tuesday night was Happy Days night.  It was simple time when the father of a TV family could still be portrayed as loving, competent, and full of wisdom as opposed to crass and moronic.  For those of you under 20,  back then a dad could even be portrayed to be as wise, if not wiser, than the mom...crazy eh?

The accolades coming out surrounding Tom Bosley's death from the likes of Henry Winkler and Ron Howard would testify to a man who was very much in real life like his compassionate onscreen persona.

When icons of my childhood pass on, its always sobering realizing time stops for no one.

So farewell and God Speed Tom Bosley...we'll miss you Mr. C!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lovin' on my Kindle!

I have a confession to make!  I've been seeing a mistress.  The really embarrassing thing is that I was introduced to her by my wife Tammy.  And now my life will never be the same...

Yes, Tammy bought me an Amazon Kindle for my birthday!

I was one of those people who swore I would never give up books for an e-book reader.  Reading books off a computer screen?...Painful!  (Albeit though, far less painful than watching "reality" TV shows)

But then a good friend of mine (thank you Francis) showed my wife and I his Kindle and Tammy got it into her head that this is something I would like.  And wouldn't you know, my birthday surprise was a 3G Amazon Kindle that arrived just in time to take with me on vacation to Italy.

First of all let me say, the days of lugging 3-4 different books on vacation are over.  My slim little 8.5 ounce "mistress" weighs less than your average paperback and can hold up to 3500 books.  In addition, the 3G wireless is free for the lifetime of the product which means if I'm stuck in an area with no wi-fi, I can nearly always access the web through my Kindle.  Granted the browser is a little clumsy but it works in a pinch.

Also, you know when you are taking off and landing on an airplane and they ask you to "close all electronic and portable devices until the pilot says its ok to use them" (like listening to U2 on my 4 gig iPod Nano is somehow going to flummix the state of the art navigational system onboard a Boeing 747) .  Well most flight attendants don't quite know what I'm doing and continue to let me read my Kindle as they remind the guy next to me to close his laptop.

I just got my first magazine subscription on the Kindle as well and although critics mention the loss of perusing many articles at once, I find the lack of peripheral distraction causes me to read the articles more thoroughly.  Reading The New Yorker on my Amazon Kindle while drinking an espresso at Starbuck's; yes, I've truly become pathetic! :)

Couple other quick points: 
  • the ease of shopping: When we were in Tuscany we started discussing the book "Under a Tuscan Sun." around the kitchen table.   Rather than think that I have to pick that up when I'm next in a bookstore, I went online with my Kindle, found the book in the "Kindle Store" and without leaving the kitchen table, I had a copy in about 45 seconds.

  • I'm just reading more!  I've always been a big reader but now that I've got my lightweight Kindle with me whether I'm on the subway, waiting for a ferry, or riding a bus, you will usually catch me reading.

  • The "e-ink" that the Kindle screen uses is so crisp and "booklike" when I get to the end of a page I instictivly  reach up to turn the page before realizing I just need to press the button.

  • Many of the classics written before 1950 are available for free and I've already downloaded a number of them onto my virtual bookshelf.  Anything from Shakespeare, to the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, or the writing of Charles Finny; they're all there for the taking.
People have asked me why I didn't just get an iPad which has been especially the "must get" device here in Hong Kong.  Admittedly, the iPad looks pretty cool, but I'm not exactly sure what I would use it for and everyone I ask here that has one seems unsure as well.   When asked they say things like, "its cool, and you can play games."  Not a convincing argument!

For me though, I like to read and I'm lovin' on my Kindle.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hanging out with the Republicans!

Its hard to beat the fast paced cosmopolitan nature of Hong Kong life...  but as we approach the U.S. mid-term elections on November 2,  I do feel a little nostalgic for some good old fashioned American partisan politics.

Republican style!

Granted, I have not been a huge fan of some of the direction the G.O.P. has headed in lately.  When someone like Sarah Palin becomes the face of the Conservative movement, William F. Buckley Jr. is rolling over in his grave.  It's a pity the serious soul searching and in-house surgery that the party has desperately needed  following our thrashing in the '06 and '08 elections has been erroneously shelved with the subsequent melt-down of the Democrats.

That short sightedness will come back to haunt us.

But hey, its election time and I'm in the mood to get political.  So what did I do?  I looked up Republicans Abroad here in Hong Kong and asked to join.  The next thing I knew I was on the mailing list and being invited to their next meeting which involved a talk on climate change by Lord Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount of Brenchley at a private reception room at The Whiskey Priest bar in Lan Kwai Fong.

Wait a second...Let me get this straight...I'm being invited to a talk at a place called The Whiskey Priest, given by a British Lord to a bunch of American Republicans living overseas in Hong Kong? 

God I love this place!  I am SO there!

Anyhow, I was one of the first to arrive.  Lan Kwai Fong is my old stomping ground and...truth be told, I knew exactly where The Whiskey Priest was ;)  Entering the room, I was immediately introduced to a man who held out his hand and said, "Hello, I'm Christopher" 

I replied, "Hi Chris.. (and then the penny dropped that this was Lord Monckton)..topher," narrowly avoiding an embarrassing fax paux.

The room began to fill up surprisingly not only with American Republicans, but no small amount of Australian Liberals; which is their conservative party (...I know I know...It makes no sense but best not to bring it up with them), and a few British Tories. 

The talk Lord Monckton gave was quite good.  He not only spoke on the politics behind climate change but proved himself to be very well versed in American politics.  Chatting with some of the other guys before and after the talk I realized that I spend so much time with people of opposing viewpoints to my own (something I admittedly look for and enjoy) that it was nice to be in a friendly audience with people who, mostly, echoed my political leanings.

Anyhow, I hope to continue catching up with the Hong Kong Republicans Abroad and who knows...

...maybe becoming part of a vast global right-wing conspiracy

...but, only on the weekends because its hard to get off work sometimes...and I have a baby on the way...and I don't know if my wife will let me... well you know how it is :)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Living in Hong Kong: Hong Kong Anniversary!

This week was a special week for me.  On October 5th it was the 20th anniversary of the day I first arrived in Hong Kong.  Three days later on October 8th, I was introduced to my wife Tammy for the first time.

1990...It had been a crazy long flight but designed to be as cheap as possible. The travel agent had asked me where I needed a ticket to.  "China" I answered.
"Which city?"
"Hong Kong" I replied.
The travel agents tone changed slightly and she said a little gruffly, "Hong Kong is Not China" in a way that sounded more personal than informative, and giving a naive American his first lesson into the geo-politics of the area.  I didn't care, I just wanted a cheap ticket.  I got it but...

...arrived in Hong Kong on a Korean Airlines 747 after a grueling 30+ hour flight that had me going from Detroit to New York, to Anchorage Alaska, to Seoul Korea, and finally to Hong Kong.  I was picked up at the airport by "Toby" the guy that I was going to share a flat with.   He dumped me off in an empty reception area of the church I'd be working at until he had time to take me out to my new digs.

As I sat there, blurry eyed with fatigue and desperately needing a shower, a guy came up and asked me if I was busy.  I nodded that I wasn't.  "Great," he said, "because I need someone to clean the bathrooms."
I thought he was joking...

...he wasn't! 

Not only that, he informed me the church was out of cleaner and I needed to go buy some.  He took me to the window and pointed out at a mass of humanity that was Mong Kok and gave we directions to a little Mom & Pop shop where I could get the cleaner.  He gave me my first Hong Kong dollars, an empty cleaner bottle so I got the right stuff, and shoved me out the door.
Again, I thought he was joking...

...he wasn't!

I came back with the goods after my first (but certainly not my last) excursion into the alleyways of Mong Kok and was promptly put to work by the guy, who I discovered was one of my new bosses.  As I sat their scrubbing toilets I felt it was all some surreal dream and I would be waking up at any moment!  Being a young kid trying to make an impression I convinced myself that they were testing me...that they were trying to see if I was made of the right stuff.  No matter how tired I was or how much I smelled...I was going to show them Jesus in my heart...

Turns out I wasn't being tested...and the boss, well he turned out to, how do I say this polietely, he  just marched to the beat of a different drummer :)  But that was my Welcome to Hong Kong moment! Incidently, I was at a church service recently where a number of churches got together in celebration.  I spotted this guy up on the stage in the worship band.  It had been 18 years since I last saw him...

I didn't go up to say hi! :)

Young Couple

Two days later on Sunday morning I was at my first church service and Tammy (my wife to be) walked through the door.  My first thought was, "Well, this place is finally starting to pick up a little..." 

The next day on Monday I made my first trip into Mainland China bringing Bibles.  I was really excited and when I walked into the office to meet "Jeff" who would be leading me in on my first trip, Tammy was working and I was introduced to her for the first time.  BTW, I made it in with all my Bibles on that first trip and tried to visit the opening of the first  "McDonalds" in China which was on the same day but we couldn't even get close such was the crowd of Chinese eager to get their first Big Mac!

With Gray Hair

This week Tammy and I had an Italian dinner at "Cafe Roma" near our house to celebrate our "anniversary".  I asked Tammy if she thought on that day that twenty years later we would be married, living in Hong Kong, and that she would be 6 months pregnant with our baby?

She replied honestly, "Nope!"

Oh well, I still got the girl!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Nobel Peace Prize for Liu Xiaobo

Chinese dissident and Tiananmen Square alumni Liu Xiaobo is serving an eleven year prison sentence for "inciting subversion of state power."

He also just won the Nobel Prize for Peace.

In and out of prison for 20 years now he has been a champion of political reform and Human Rights in Mainland China and is one of the chief architects of the "08 Charter" which calls for such subversive demands as:

  •  Freedom of expression & assembly
  •  An independent judiciary
  •  Freedom of religion
  •  Civic Education
and other normal stuff that makes the Communist Party squirm.

The Chinese Government has denounced the award to Liu and has threatened that trade between China and Norway could be threatened as the body that grants the Nobel Prize is based in Norway.  The Norwegian government of course, being a free country, has answered that the Nobel committee is a private group over which the government has no say.

You see, that is a concept the Communist Party just doesn't get...

...and when the Chinese Government finds something going on in private that they just don't get, they:

  1.  arrest it,
  2.  charge it
  3.  sentence it
  4.  "re-educate" it.

I joke a little but I have great interest in China.  I live here, have close Chinese friends here, and have met a number of people in China who have spent time in prison for conscious issues.  They love China and have the hope for a better China one day.

Here's hoping Liu Xiaobo will be able to walk out of prison soon and claim the award he richly deserves.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Gun totin' 7-yr olds!

Couldn't believe this when I read it but a school board in Broward County Florida has upheld a school expulsion for a seven year old boy who brought a toy gun to school!

A lot has been written about abuses that would occur if the "radical Right" are in political power; the incident in Broward County shows what happens when the Left controls things;

...a toy gun is classified as an A-1 firearm. 

The crazy part was that after the school expelled the student under their zero tolerance policy the school board upheld the expulsion.  You think that if one level of crazy had been hurdled, someone higher up would say, "Maybe its not such a good idea for kicking a 7-year old out of school for a year for bringing in a toy."  But no, it would appear the level of crazy in Broward is multiple and many faceted.

But the far Left mind, like its close cousin the far Right, is not a rational organ.  How does this mind think you ask?  How could this happen?  Let me tell you a story:

Once when I was living in Boulder Colorado (the Mothership for people on the Left) I was attending the Boulder Creek Festival with the family.  Gabriel was about 5 at the time and wanted a toy wooden gun that was being sold at one of the booths there.  He was walking around playing with it when a lady came up to me and chastised me saying, "You let you son play with guns?"  I must admit I was caught off guard and simply responded, "Well, its not a real gun.  Its a wooden toy with a big orange plastic thing on the end."
She responded in tempered disgust, "The negative energy he is shooting is just as bad as real bullets."

Now you understand...

I'm a school administrator now...I have an idea of how to handle things.  Last year after class a teacher came to me with a student that had brought a pocket knife to school.  (I was the campus coordinator so these things came to me).  I asked him why he brought it.  He said it was new and he wanted to show his friends. 

Hey, I was a boy too and I remember what it was like.

  I took the knife from the teacher and told the student knives were not allowed, that he could collect it after school from me, and if I ever saw it again he wouldn't be getting it back.  No hysteria, no expulsions, no meetings with parents, counselors, and police.  Just common sense!

By the way, I'd like to take this opportunity to announce my candidacy for the 2012 presidential election...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Travels to Italy: Part 2

The main duration of our time in Italy is staying at a little farmhouse renovated for guests about 45 minutes outside of Florence. We had chosen not to include a GPS unit in our Avis rental car figuring that:

* at US$15.50 a day x 10 days that money could be better spent on more wine

* we had every intention of just getting lost in Italy.

Granted, there were a handful of times in the last couple days it would have come in handy. As an American I was used to well marked highways with signage that is both plentiful and that usually give you adequate time to make necessary lane changes. In Italy…not so much! But we eventually made it to “Borga Isadora” which is a beautiful restored 19th century farmhouse. The grounds are just what you would come to expect in your most romantic notions of Tuscany. It was so beautiful that tears came to Tammy’s eyes as Maria, the owner, gave us a tour of our new home for the week. Our first night in Tuscany was a homemade pasta meal with chicken, bread, olive oil, and wine! Bueno!

On Friday, we got up bright and early (actually because of jet lag) for our first excursion into Florence. Yes, I actually drove into Florence white knuckles and all. Crazy roundabouts, meandering streets, and scooters swarming around like angry hornets…but we made it.

Florence is everything you might imagine it to be. It seems to radiate culture and class from its very core. Every turn seems to lead to something interesting whether it is an old church, home, museum, shop, or cafe.

Our day seemed to be filled with eating pizza, drinking coffee, and admiring some of the most famous pieces of art in human history. For me though the most inspiring moment was standing before Michelangelo’s “David”. I know I should be snobbish and gawk over some other more obscure piece that you had never heard of...but I can't. From the minute you walk into the gallery Academia and make your first turn you are confronted with Michelangelo's most famous work. Standing 17 fet tall, the sculpture of the shepherd boy who would be king confronting the unseen Goliath seems to capture art in its purest form.

We followed up Florance the next day with trips to the medieval cities of San Gimignano and Volterra. Both are towns caught in a time warp that somehow look like Disney's Fantasyland without the rides. Walled cities on a hill top with battle towers and fortresses hide quaint little shops and cafes that command beautiful views overlooking the hills of Tuscany. We ate at a beautiful restaurant that served us wild boar with goat cheese as an appetizer.

At night the streets of Volterra became downright eerie and took on a backdrop right out of an Anne Rice novel. These are most certainly the alleyways the vampire Lestant would prowl at night. The feeling was heightened when we toured the Palace Vitti which was (is) an elegant aristocratic manor with paintings on the walls with ancient family members that looked like...well vampires. Then at the end of the tour we got to go down to the crypt to have a glass of wine...well, the picture says it all.

In actuality, the Vitti family still own the palace and Senora Vitti herself made us feel very welcome. It was a wonderful experience.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Travels to Italy: Part 1

Although we didn’t need to leave for the airport until 8:00 AM…we were up at 5. Why? Because after many delays, we were finally off to our vacation in Italy. The European trip began being put together by my mom and my wife a couple years ago. We were moving to China for a new job and my parents, who have been to China many times already, proposed that they not visit us there but that we meet up for a vacation together somewhere in Europe. That idea gradually morphed into a our Tuscany adventure.

We were supposed to make the trip during the week long Chinese New Year Holiday back in February but my recent job relocation to Hong Kong ended up delaying the trip until now. Yes, we did get some flack for taking Gabriel out of school for this but I figure:

* He’s in the 7th grade…he’ll make it up before university
* Thirty years from now he’ll remember walking around Florence with his grandparents and have no memory, or care, for the school lessons he missed this week!

So, about 7:50 AM we rolled our little suitcases out the door and down to the Park Island airport shuttle for Hong Kong International. Of course, for Tammy and Gabriel a trip to the airport means not only a flight but a visit to Popeye’s chicken. For some reason, Popeye’s is in no other place in Hong Kong save the airport and once clearing immigration both made a beeline for the chicken palace. In fact after scarfing down a chicken breakfast I had to buy a half dozen pieces to go just incase my 6 month pregnant wife suddenly got cravings at 30,000 feet.
Our flight to Rome was on the Russian carrier Aeroflot and was routed through Moscow. I must admit, as a child of the 80’s and of Ronald Reagan’s America, the thought of flying into the heart of the former Soviet Union was somewhat exhilarating for me. After all, while growing up, this was the heart of the “evil empire” and the “iron curtain”. In actually, it turned out rather uneventful. No gulag, Pravda, or KGB stories to tell, just ended up chatting with an American from Broomfield Colorado in the transit lounge. (Ah…the irony!)

The one interesting thing flying Aeroflot was the sudden realization that it was a “dry flight”. When the steward asked me what I wanted to drink I asked for a glass of wine. He looked at me uncomfortably and muttered that they were out. I then asked for a beer to which I found out that there was no alcohol served in economy class of the flight. Now, I’ve been flying Internationally for over 20 years and I have never seen alcohol not available on a flight. Seeing that many of the people on the plane looked like extras in a Guy Ritchie movie, it would appear a tactical decision to keep everyone sober had been made. Scanning my flight companions in the cabin I would say it was a wise decision. I ordered apple juice!

Landing in Rome we headed to the Avis counter to collect our reserved rental car. I admit I was a little anxious. I hadn’t driven in over a year and now I would be driving the streets of a foreign country at night trying to find our hotel…and with a stick shift! The plan was to meet up with my parents at the hotel for a night before departing in the morning for Tuscany and our rented farmhouse. 30 minutes and 2 wrong turns later we arrived at the hotel for our first night in Italy!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Restore the Sanity 2010

I try not to blog too often on Jon Stewart and the Daily Show...else I would hardly blog about anything else...but when he announced his "Restore the Sanity" rally for October 30 in Washington DC, I had to get on board.

Lets face it, things have gotten really weird...and it started long before Obama. When George W. Bush was in office I was always disturbed when I would see, normally calm, intelligent Democrat acquaintances suddenly have a Jekyll & Hyde reaction at the very mention of his name. Eyes would glaze over, teeth would gnash, and no reason could penetrate the notion that from the time W. got up in the morning till he went to bed at night, he was Satan incarnate.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Rally to Restore Sanity
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Now it seems with Obama...its gotten even worse. If I mention to some Republican friends that although I wouldn't vote for him, I think he's articulate and has some good qualities I will inevitably be given a look of sheer incongruity.

"But Steve, surely you know he is a: (Choose 1)

A) Atheist
B) Muslim
C) Black Panther Christian

who was born in

A) Kenya
B) Indonesia (but don't ask me where that's at)
C) hell (and is the anti-Christ)

and he's trying to

A) create a socialist Amerika
B) make it legal for a man to be able to marry his own pet
c) take away all my rocket propelled grenade launchers

and I know all of this because:

A) Rush Limbaugh
B) Glenn Beck
c) Sarah Palin

told me so (by inspiration of the Holy Spirit). So here is your

A) handgun
B) shotgun
C) rocket propelled grenade launcher

and get ready, because this revolution will be televised on

A) Fox News
B) Fox News
C) Fox News

I give credit to Stewart in his promotion of the rally. Although he vents Left in his politics, he takes an equal swipe at both sides of the craziness. And they have both gone crazy!

I wish I were in the States in October because this is one rally I would attend. Its my kind of people...people who I can stand with and proclaim with one voice,

"WE ARE HERE...but only till 6:00 because we have a sitter!"

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Incredible (Disappearing) Video Store

I did something today I haven't done for a long time. I went to the video store and got a membership! Wow! Renting movies from a store. How "5 minutes ago is that?" The reason was that Park Island, where I live here in Hong Kong, has a small DVD store so I decided to give it a try...for old time sake.

Walking in, it almost had the feeling of nostalgia. Like a last glimpse at a way of life that would soon disappear. Its a shame really.

These days I tend to download TV shows and movies from iTunes, stream from the Internet, or purchase cheap DVDs on my occasional trips into China.

But before all that was possible...there was "the video shop".

I remember, it must have been about 1983, the time our family got our first video player. Wow! To be able to record a movie from the TV and watch it again at your leisure later...what a concept. Till that time, movies like the Wizard of Oz came on once a year...if you missed it, tough luck, you waited till the next year. I remember one night in the late 1970's when Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was showing on a Sunday evening but my parents insisted on our all going to church instead. I was beside myself in was every week, Willy Wonka was only once a year. (Couldn't they do the math?) Now with VHS, Willy Wonka could be watched every day, if I wanted.

Suddenly, every retail store was in on the video rental game. Even my local 7-11 made a short lived stab at renting videos. Hard to believe that you had to pay for a membership in those early days and if you wanted to purchase a movie on video, it could run as high as US$100.

So, here is my ode to the video stores that meant so much to me through the years:

Movieland: (Shelby, Michigan): First video store I "lived" at. It was run by a little old couple that didn't know much about movies but I think decided to give this new market product a shot. If someone asked the old man if they had a movie he yell over to me as I was perusing the tapes, "Hey Steve, do we have this movie." I rented from that shop from 1983 till about '87. It eventually became a auto parts shop and I have no idea whatever happened to the little old couple. However, I did go on a date with one of the young attendant's they hired...that didn't go so well :)

KPS video: (Shatin, Hong Kong) From about the time Tammy and I got married, the KPS video chain exploded in Hong Kong. A trip to the mall at New Town Plaza could hardly not involve a trip to this video store. A phone call to each other would often be, "I'll pick up dinner and make a stop by "Kipps" for a movie." When a Typhoon would hit Hong Kong you would see a congo line of people snaking out into the mall stocking up on films to ride out the storm. Unfortunately, KPS overextended themselves in expansion and eventually went out of business about 1998.

Movieland: (Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong) When the church I pastored finally got it's own space in Lan Kwai Fong, the Movieland across the street immediately got one of its best customers. The shop was run by a young Filipino man who started buying whole TV series for rental. Finally, I was able to catch up on Star Trek as well as being introduced to Friends. I was pleasantly surprised to see when I returned to Hong Kong after 10 years that the store was still there. I talked with the young lady who worked there and said that although business was tougher these days, they were still doing OK.

The Video Station: (Boulder, Colorado): Probably the best video store I have been in ever. It is staffed on its two floors by people who know and love film. When a friend recommended an Indian movie I "must see" I went up to the Video Station and asked them, "You probably haven't heard of it, but I'm looking for the Indian movie Devdas." Instead of looking at me with the blank stare I would have got at any other video store, he smiled and said, "Do you want it on VHS or DVD?" I loved the Video Station and it was my video store "home" during my Boulder Colorado years.

Something will be missed when the video store finally disappears for good. As a unashamed movie lover, there was something about the vibe of talking to other people abut films, discussing recommendations, and the hours of perusing the synopsis on the backs of movies, sometimes discovering that unknown cinematic gem.

I'm not sure if "Video killed the Radio Star", but I do know that the internet is killing the video store. One day, when its gone for good, many of us my age will look back with great affection and be telling our grandchildren of a time "when you could go up to these stores, and they would rent you movies."