Monday, September 13, 2010

Food, Inc.

I vividly remember sitting down as a young man for dinner at my Grandparent's ranch in DeRidder, LA. I could see the corn fields from the kitchen window as the smell of fresh green beans and grilled chicken filled the room. I can remember seeing the same potatoes my Grandmother and I pulled from the ground earlier that day being pulled from the oven just before dinner. And I remember seeing that glistening grilled chicken and realizing that its head was in my Grandma's hand after she had wrung its neck that very morning. There was no doubt where those wonderful meals came from, and that's kind of what made them so wonderful.

Saturday night after watching the LSU Tigers work over Vanderbilt, Kim and I sat down with some friends and watched a documentary called "Food, Inc." Something about the cover of the film caught my eye, and even though I knew the movie might change the way I looked at food, it still seemed like a worthy pursuit. I was right on both counts, and now I'm not sure what to do about it.

Food, Inc. tells the story of the food industry in America. It does not paint a pretty picture. It lifts the curtain between the bright and organized presentation we see on the grocery store aisle, and the rather dark and destructive process by which those items end up on the shelf. I had never really thought of these things before. How do we get our food? Who brings it to the grocery store, and how do they get it? How does all that nice white chicken meat end up in a shrink wrapped container without bones? These are just some of the questions Food, Inc. seeks to answer.

Here's an excerpt from the Food, Inc. discussion guide provided on the movie's web site:

"When most of us think of a farm, we imagine a place with a red barn, green

pastures, and chickens running around the yard. But the reality of most farms

in the United States today is far from that image. Farming has become so

industrialized and mechanized that many modern farms are like factories.

The poultry industry is an example of this change to factory farms. As depicted in

Food, Inc., chickens today are often raised in huge metal buildings with no access

to light or fresh air, confined together with thousands of birds in one building,

and made to grow so quickly that often their bones cannot keep up and they can

lose their ability to walk."

I didn't really think about that the last time I popped a chicken nugget in my mouth. The movie goes on to tell us that chickens grow to full maturity in about 6 months, but steroids and genetic engineering have altered the way our food grows. The food industry now grows huge chickens with large breasts (because consumers prefer white meat) to full maturity in about 48 days. I'm no expert, but that can't be good for the chicken or the consumer.

We also find out in Food, Inc. that most of what we like to think of as "fresh food", like eggs, vegetables and meat, travels an average of 1,500 miles from the farm to the grocery store. That doesn't seem real fresh! This is the first time in history that we aren't able to trace our food from its origin, and we don't really care.

In one particularly disturbing scene, the makers of Food, Inc. showed how 85% of hamburger beef is cleaned by ammonia before it is packaged. Apparently the scientists who came up with this factory-produced process thought that exposing the meat to ammonia would eliminate the risk of disease. The factory was big and metal and contained a seemingly endless labyrinth of pipes. If you didn't know better, you'd think they were building cars in that factory, not packaging meat!!

Now, I'll be honest with you... I don't know quite what to do about this. I'm far too busy (which is undoubtedly part of the problem) to raise my own livestock and harvest my own vegetables. Plus, I don't have any land on which to pursue such things. Going to McDonald's with 5 kids seems much more do-able for my family than stocking the freezer with grass-fed, free range beef, and cooking a bag of frozen beans in the microwave is much more efficient for a family of 7 than snapping, washing and cooking pees acquired from the farmer's market.

But going to McDonald's is no longer desirable, and the thought of continuing to fill my body with overprocessed, pesticide riddled, genetically engineered, ammonia doused, corn based food disgusts me. I hate it that I don't know where the food I eat comes from, and I'm bothered by the fact that huge, multinational corporations control nearly all the available food in the world. Clearly changes must be made. I'll update you when I figure out how to make them. Until then, I'll remember my Grandparent's farm and see if I can find a way to duplicate its wholesomeness on some small level.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Horn Creek Mountain Top Experience

Last week was my family's annual trek to the mountains of Colorado for Family Camp at Horn Creek. We love it. Our year isn't the same without Horn Creek, so we literally do everything in our power to make the trip happen. This year was particularly tough because we weren't in a position financially to be able to go, but thanks to some very generous folks who work at the camp we were able to migrate northwest for a week in the thin, beautiful air of Horn Creek.

There were many wonderful things that happened at Horn Creek this year, and it was probably my favorite trip since we started coming 4 years ago. Pierce was easier to handle this time around, and even when he did generate some chaos, the other campers seemed better prepared to deal with his quirks. Jillian and the boys went and did as they pleased, and they frolicked and built forts and observed (and sometimes captured) wildlife with more skill and freedom that ever before. Kim and I had more time to sit and talk and enjoy the scenery than in years past, and we began to feel like Horn Creek was more "ours" than not.

The highlight of the trip, by far, happened on Thursday when Kim, Trent, Cale and I hiked to the 13,450 ft summit Horn Peak. We began in a meadow at 6:00 a.m., and as we hiked to the base of the mountain, we realized we were in for a very difficult day. Ten minutes into the hike we were seriously re-thinking our summit attempt. We just couldn't seem to catch our breath. And by "we", I mean Kim and me, because Trent and Cale showed no signs of struggle. I think there's probably something very empowering to a kid when he discovers he's stronger, on some level, than his parents. It was good to see my kids empowered.

By the time we got to the tree line (which is the place where the oxygen levels are so thin that tree's can't grow) we were exhausted. Again, by "we", I mean Kim and me. The boys were still fresh as a mountain stream. Little punks! Our guide informed us at this point that it would take at least three more hours to reach the peak. Three more hours!! How could that be? We had already hiked for 3.5 hours, and it looked from our perspective like the top of the mountain was only a couple of hundred yards away. Our guide was obviously mistaken. We'd be at the top in less than an hour.

The sad truth is that it took us more than three hours to get there. Oh yeah, and by "us", I mean Kim and me. The boys hit the summit a full hour before we waddled to the top. We collapsed there with our two oldest sons, and we took in a panorama of some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. It was an exhilarating, confidence boosting accomplishment for all involved, and it was the kind of thing that made me long for more of this kind of activity with my family. I made it a goal on the top of that mountain that I would climb this mountain with each of my children before I die.

I want my kids to know that true accomplishment is more than getting to the next level on a video game. I want them to know that they can overcome tremendous obstacles and still achieve great things. I want them to know what beauty looks like. I want them to feel small compared to God's handiwork, and I want them to know that when they do, I'll be right there with them, feeling even smaller. I want them to know that how you descend is just as important as how you ascend, and I want them to understand that risk and danger are sometimes parts of the journey that you must embrace instead of avoid.

When we got to the top of the mountain I looked at Cale and said, "You know what the bad thing about climbing a mountain is?" He answered, "No." "You can never say 'I can't' again", I responded. "I'll know better, because if you can climb a mountain, you can do just about anything." He thought, nodded his head, and said, "Yep." Then I said, "Do you know what the good thing about climbing a mountain is?" "What?" he replied. "You can never say I can't again."

I'm not sure he understood where I was going with that, but I knew that one day he'd realize that having a never quit mentality would become a great asset. That's the kind of thing you can only learn by experiencing something bigger than yourself. Horn Creek gives us those kinds of opportunities, and that's why we love it.

You should probably find a way to get to Horn Creek sometime!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Trash Talking

Last year when LSU lost to Ole Miss in shameful fashion (a loss to Ole Miss is always shameful, but this one was particularly so), Shepherd Smith, an Ole Miss graduate, took a shot at the Tigers at the end of his Fox News show. It was cheap and unnecessary, but, hey... It's Ole Miss.

I thought this was a fun piece of video featuring Les Miles, the LSU head football coach. Miles, not known for his articulate interviews, was surprisingly well spoken, especially in relation to his concern for the Louisiana coast. Good stuff!

Click the link below to watch the video:
Trash Talking

Friday, June 11, 2010


The college football landscape is about to change dramatically, and I'm not sure what I think about it. I grew up in SEC country, and for some time now the SEC has been considered the top conference in the land. With 5 of the last 7 BCS National Champions coming from the SEC, it's hard to argue against the conference's dominance. As a fan of the LSU Tigers, an SEC Western division school, I am perfectly happy with the conference, aside from the inclusion of Vanderbilt University, who consistently rests at the bottom of the SEC.

The Big 12, another power conference, and one that has seen nearly as much success as the SEC in recent years, looks to be evaporating. Nebraska has accepted an invitation to join the Big 10, and Colorado has jumped to the PAC 10. That said, it's only a matter of time before Texas makes a move, and then the dominoes will fall, and the Big 12 will be no longer.

In my opinion, the SEC can only gain good things from this turn of events. We either pick up, say, a Texas A&M or an Oklahoma, or we raid the ACC and get Virginia Tech and Fla State. Either way, the rich get richer, and the competitive level of the SEC incredibly goes up a notch.

For fans, this paves the way for 3 major conferences: The SEC, The PAC 16, and The Big 16, and there will probably be one or two more mega-conferences that emerge from all of this (The Mountain West has reportedly already added Boise St). The good thing is that this should pave the way for a playoff system. The bad news is that many of the mid-major schools like Utah and TCU may find it even more difficult to compete for national prominence.

Oh yeah, and how about those sanctions at USC? 30 lost scholarships over three years, with a cap of only 15 a year, plus forfeiting some losses and no postseason for the next few years? Wow!! That 2003 BCS National Championship for LSU is starting to look more and more unanimous with each passing day. Sweet redemption!

I can't wait to see how it all plays out. All I can say is Geaux Tigers and Go SEC!!!

Here's an interesting article by Tony Barhart about how it all might shake out.

Here's another article about Texas A&M to the SEC. Good stuff.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Good Christian Music

The phrase "Good Christian music" used to sound like an oxymoron to me. For a long time I rejected the idea of "Christian" music at all. I don't like it when we categorize our faith, as though there are exclusively Christian moments and non-Christian moments. Is it Christian when a young Sunday-schooler walks an old lady across the street and non-Christian when a gang-banger caps off a drive by? One demonstrates charity and grace and the other reflects grave depravity, but both speak clearly of lynch pin doctrines of the faith. So is sin any less Christian than love? Without sin, after all, there is no need for the sacrificial love of Christ.

Music, in much the same way, can't simply be defined as "Christian" or "non-Christian." It either speaks of the goodness of God or the depravity of man, but themes of faith abound in any form of art. So, the real designator when it comes to the industry known as "Christian music" is the faith status of the singer/performer. The music itself is neither Christian nor non-Christian, but the artist can certainly claim one or the other designation.

Anyway, now that I've cleared that up... Here's my list of good music that happens to be performed by Christian artists. This is not a comprehensive list, but simply a few good things I've listened to lately that seem worth passing along. Enjoy!

  • Phil Wickham - I'm not big on the whole "Worship" genre, but Wickham's music is so artfully arranged that I can no longer deny its greatness. His voice is full of believable passion, and the writing aptly captures the mystery and greatness of God. When you listen to his songs, you feel as though you're being swept up into something bigger (Try "Cannons" or "Heaven & Earth")
  • Sara Groves - Before her latest release, "Fireflies and Songs", I couldn't have told you a single song by Sarah Groves. I'm sure I've heard her before, but nothing memorable comes to mind. But this most recent album is great. It's smart, dignified and moving, and the music moves as naturally as a mountain stream. There's nothing spectacular on this record, but it's the kind of album you can play several times and hear something new with each listen.
  • Glenn Kaiser and Darrell Mansfield - When I was in college, one of my friends bought Kaiser/Mansfield's "Trimmed and Burnin'", and it instantly became one of my favorite records of all time. Imagine two guys sitting on the front porch of a rickety rural farm house with a dobro (a kind of steel guitar) and a harmonica (and maybe a glass of moonshine and a burning cigarette), and you're probably pretty close to envisioning the setting where a lot of these songs were written. This is just gritty, down home blues sung by two gravel throated virtuosos. Every song speaks of the holiness of God, but nothing about this album feels contrived or condescending. I've listened to these guys consistently for nearly 20 years, and they never get old.
  • Ben Shive - I first heard Ben in December at the Behold the Lamb of God show in Cleburne, TX (This show is a must see, so if it comes your way, you must go see it!). I was blown away by his writing. Rich, deep, truly powerful writing. He can really play the piano too, and his album, "The Ill-Tempered Klavier", is quite magical. You should probably buy it.
That's all I've got for you. I know there's more really good music by Christian artists out there, but these are the one's currently lighting my fire. I hope you like them too.

Monday, May 10, 2010

I knew this day would come!!!

I remember back several years ago when we took the dignity defying plunge into Mini-van ownership. Fantasies of driving a big, manly truck or a hip, slick sports car quickly vaporized into the reality of driving a bulky, egg-shaped family wagon. As The Police so accurately wrote in their song, Synchronicity, driving a mini-van is a "humiliating kick in the crotch."

But no longer!! According to Toyota, owning a Mini-van = Pure Awesomeness. I knew this day would come!!!


This is a great video that shows how ridiculous church can sometimes be. I love the church in all its many expressions, but I'm starting to feel less and less like the "cool" pastor type. I can't pull off the designer T-shirts, I don't have any tattoo's, I can't grow a gotee, and if I shaved my head I'd look even more goofy. I'm approaching 40, and I'm just not that cool anymore. This video is sweet justice for me because it points out that the uber-cool church environments that are all the rage aren't very cool either. Good stuff.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Been a long time, Baby

OK, it's been way too long since I've been here. For whatever reason I decided to open up the laptop and dust off Cajun Roast Beef like an old book that's been sitting on the shelf of an abandoned cabin. I'm not sure why I stopped blogging for so long. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I am just busy these days and don't have the time to spend on contemplating "Life, Religion and Stuff" like I used to. Truth be told, I probably didn't have the time then either, but it seemed more important to vent to my online journal than take care of the business at hand. That is no longer the case.

Another reason I stopped blogging is because, honestly, it felt like I was trying to be self-important. It was kind of like saying, "Look, everyone, I've got something cool to say! You should read my thoughts because they're good." While I'd like to believe that I'm capable of some pretty good thoughts, it was beginning to feel weird to consistently publish them to the web. I really felt like I was looking for some confirmation that I could think well or write well or be clever. I'm a people pleaser, and this sort of became my outlet to feel like someone liked me. Sad, but true.

The other reason I haven't posted in a while is because I'm not as creative as I used to be. I don't know whether it's parenting 5 children or running a church or what, but my brain just doesn't have that same spark anymore. Plus, I spend so much creative energy on sermon preparation that there's nothing left for my blog. Sometimes - and I know some of you won't believe this - I just don't have anything to say (or write).

What I've come to realize lately is that I really like to write. Some people like to hunt or play video games or collect memorabilia, but I like to write. It's an outlet, and it's just something that's in me. So I'm going to keep posting here and there because it's something I like to do. I won't do it as much because I'm busy and I don't want to get caught in a self-important trap, but I will try to post something regularly.

Happy reading!!!!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Don't Just Improve Your Marriage... Transform it!!

As I mentioned a while back, I have been writing some press releases for a marketing company, and, every once in a while, I really like to pass along the title and description of a book that I think will be particularly helpful. "Us" by Daniel Tocchini is one such book. I really like Tocchini's approach, and I'd highly recommend taking a look at this one. Here's the press release:

Us, a new book by Daniel Tocchini, isn’t about improving marriages. It’s about transforming them. Drawing on personal experience and stories from couples he has coached, Tocchini offers practical guidance to move couples beyond communication tricks and gimmicks to help them truly understand "Us" for the first time. Couples often encounter devestating roadblocks to their communication, but "Us" takes them through the necessary steps to evade such obstacles and experience freedom in marriage. Things like talking honestly, listening generously, tackling tricky issues, breaking out of ruts, and abandoning self-centered “consumer thinking" help navigate couples through their life together. The good news, according to Tocchini, is that personalities don’t need to change in order for marriage to work. What needs to change is how we view ourselves, our spouses, and our marriages.

Innovative, insightful and thoroughly biblical, Tocchini’s approach has helped thousands in his popular seminars. Whether a marriage is in deep trouble or just coasting along, it's time for Christian couples to read the User's Guide that God intended.

In this intensely practical, innovative guide, marriage coach Daniel Tocchini invites you to open your marriage to transformation by learning to:
· Expect less—and infinitely more—of your life partner and yourself
· Actually talk to each other instead of making assumptions (and accusations)
· Break free of those recurring, unresolved arguments
· Manage the impact of difficult (but necessary) conversations on your relationship
· Defuse conflict without sweeping it under a rug
· Open the broken places in your marriage (the ones you hesitate even to talk about)

Tocchini explains, “This is a transformational approach to breaking through the barriers and getting out of the ruts in our marriage by paying attention to our conversation—what we are thinking, our motivation for thinking it, and the impact it has on our spouse.”

Author Bio
Daniel L. Tocchini has worked with more than 5,000 couples through personal marriage coaching and the unique and life-changing marriage seminars offered through his organization, the Association for Christian Character Development. An ordained minister, chaplain, author, and highly successful speaker/coach, he lives with his family in California.

Us by Daniel L. Tocchini
David C Cook/January 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4347-6473-7/196 pages/softcover/$14.99

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Hidden Baggage

Do you ever feel like you're carrying around some hidden baggage? I recently took a trip through an airport security checkpoint in Dallas. In the wake of the underwear bomber (is there a more dubious distinction?), airport security is in full on lock down mode, and those of us who've had to travel since Christmas day have encountered a whole new level of scrutiny. In my case, I stepped to the checkpoint confident that my luggage would make a non-stop trip through the x-ray machine, and assured that I would shoe-lessly and belt-lessly breeze through the metal detector without incident. I laid my laptop, car keys, coat, cell phone, shoes and belt in their own generic grey bins, and slid them onto the conveyor belt like groceries at a check out lane. What could go wrong?

Before I left home, I grabbed a small carry-on bag from the hall closet and packed it myself (without the aid of any terrorist-types), so I knew there was nothing in there that could be fashioned into a makeshift weapon. Imagine my surprise when one of the security guards stopped me and exclaimed, "You know you have a multi-tool with a blade in your bag, right?" "No!" I surprisingly snapped back, "I had no idea." Apparently one of my kids stuffed this threatening device into my suitcase for some unknown reason. It cost me nearly 20 minutes at the security station just to explain to homeland security that I really wasn't planning on charging the cockpit with a leatherman. Finally, after confiscating the multi-tool that I never knew I even owned, they sent me on my way.

It was a not so subtle reminder that we sometimes carry harmful things around with us, like so much airport baggage, while not even knowing they are there. This is why I think counseling is good for just about anyone. Counselors are sort of like airport security check points. They reveal the things we carry around inside of us that could be potentially harmful to us, sometimes without our knowledge. Just something to think about.

Monday, January 04, 2010

New Book Offers Honest Reflections About Bothersome Truths

If you were to ask an atheist or skeptic what bothers him most about Christianity, chances are that person would have a list of issues to discuss. But what would happen if you were to pose that same question to a Christian — or, better yet - an evangelical pastor? The answer might surprise you.

In What Bothers Me Most About Christianity (Howard Books/Simon & Schuster), Pastor Ed Gungor owns up to the valid criticism that affronts Christianity. Gungor is the author of the New York Times bestseller There Is More to the Secret and is recognized as an expert on issues of faith and popular culture. A regular guest on Moody Broadcasting’s Primetime America radio show, his popular blogs are found on Christian With his trademark wit and refreshing honesty, Gungor explores the aspects of Christianity that trouble not only the opponents of faith but dedicated believers as well.

“Those who embrace Christ love Christianity, but some parts of faith still don’t sit well. Not everyone is willing to admit this. Some claim they never experience tension or doubt—that their faith is always an ecstatic, absolute, unwavering “knowing” that bubbles inside them at all times, forever effervescent and never encroached upon by doubt. But I don’t believe them,” Gungor states. “Faith has already won the day in my soul. But still, some areas of faith throw me off. They disturb me; they disturb lots of people. In What Bothers Me Most About Christianity, I extend an open invitation to anyone who wants to explore these areas with me.”

In recent years, atheist authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have begun to flood the market with books attempting to dismantle religious faith. Gungor’s contribution to this discussion is thoughtful, reasonable, and respectful. What Bothers Me Most About Christianity is essential reading for anyone—believer and skeptic alike—who struggles to understand or accept:

• A Hide-and-Seek God
• An Unreasonable Faith
• An Evil World
• A Lone Savior
• The Science-Faith Smackdown
• An All-Too-Human Church
• An Old Testament “Bully”
• A Misuse of Scripture
• A Torturous Hell

Gungor maintains that having faith is not intellectual suicide and that mystery is an essential quality of the Christian belief. What Bothers Me Most About Christianity opens up the forum for amicable discussion between thinking people on both sides of the debate, from aggressive atheists to unswerving Christian believers. Gungor maintains that balancing faith and reason is, indeed, possible and that devoted Christ followers need not shy away from asking the tough questions.

“If we aren’t honest about the tensions in faith, problems emerge. Critical thinkers observe Christians and dismiss the claims of Christ, and some Christ followers end up living more in the land of fake than the land of faith,” Gungor reflects. As he guides readers through these fundamental issues, they will find that their honest wrestling will actually bring them to a deeper, more mature understanding of faith. What Bothers Me Most About Christianity is available online here.