Sunday, May 27, 2007

Where's Waldo?

See if you can find what is out of place in Al Gore's office. Thanks to Roger Mexico of for the photo.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

As the Parade Passes By

Oh wow, another school year has come and gone. I can hardly believe it. The last day of school was yesterday, and I am left feeling somewhat bittersweet this morning. That’s because of this particular group of wonderful students I had the privilege of teaching this year. I wish I could teach them every year.

Donald Trump has millions of dollars. Professional athletes have skill and admiration. Hollywood celebrities have fame. None of them have the gift that has been granted to me- that of seeing a microcosm of society pass by each and every year; of watching an incredible miracle take place: that of seeing little kids grow up into young teenagers, with all the angst and pain and doubt and searching for identity that goes along with it.

These children are all just people. Their thoughts and aspirations, though young and hormone-crazed, are no less important than anyone else’s. Their significance as individuals in God’s eyes as well as in my own is not diminished by their size or age. By the same token, they are still children, and they need compassion, understanding and correction when they make mistakes. They need encouragement and support to make good decisions, and they also need to be left alone sometimes to make mistakes in order to learn. It’s difficult to balance those needs; patience and wisdom are helpful in this regard (of which I have a limited supply, as I have learned many times!)

At the beginning of the school year they come in, their eyes wide and their anxiety clearly showing. They are all kind of going, whoa, baby…. “The kids are so BIG here! The lockers stretch up to the ceiling! The classes are so demanding!” As is our custom, we ask students still in the hallway at 8:15 to proceed to homeroom. Some children are just so intimidated though that they are afraid to say that they are lost, and do not remember where their homeroom is. You ask them to go to homeroom, and they just sort of sit there and quiver and then they break down into tears. Usually one of my female colleagues will witness this. She will come along and see me next to a crying little girl or boy, and her maternal instinct kicks in. “Come on now… I will protect you from mean old Mr. Houtchens….”

The end of the school year is an entirely different story. At 8:15 you go through the routine and tell groups of kids in the hallway to go to homeroom, and they sort of just look at you, roll their eyes and laugh, and go back to socializing. That’s when I use my secret weapon. It has taken me years of experience to figure this one out. I say to them, unless you move in three seconds, I am going to start hanging out right here and acting cool. This is absolute anathema to them. Nothing is worse than an adult trying to act cool- nothing. Our idea of cool is so antiquated that to them it is preposterous and embarrassing. Usually it is enough to make them scream and run away. If not, I start dancing the hustle. Doot doo doo doo doo-doo doo doot doot…. This usually does it. One year I had a particularly smart group of students who instead of running away, told me “Welcome to our group Mr. Houtchens!” I was then treated to a conversation of “So he goes… So I go… So he goes… So I go… So he goes… So I go….” Ugh. I think in that one case I finally left and let them have the last laugh, hehe.

The boys at the end of the year, besides socializing are sometimes looking for some stunt to pull off. They require a lot of supervision, an ounce of prevention and all that. They are chasing each other around, hockey checking one another, then running to the teacher to prevent repercussions. It’s sort of a one upsmanship kind of thing. Usually I will respond in kind. “If you are going to play hockey, then you get to sit in the penalty booth. Report to my room and sit in the ‘happy chair’ next to my desk.” After leaving them to sweat for a while they are then treated to a lecture of some sorts, depending on the severity of the incident. If it’s just a small amount of horseplay, I tell them to leave all throttling, maiming, folding, spindling, and mutilating of their friends limbs to after school. If it’s more severe, they get the stern warning. “How badly do you want to sit next to me all… day… long… doing work you really don’t want to do?” You can see the cogs turning and they usually get the message.

This year my students were hard workers in class. They took all their notes, and completed homework assignments, for the most part. I feel we had a sort of a working camaraderie of sorts, which did not go beyond the bounds of professionalism. For example, near Christmastime, I think, I was talking about Christmas break, and how it would be so wonderful to be out of school, and I got out my keys to jingle them. “Ho, ho, ho!” I said. “Merry Christmas!” [jingle, jingle, jingle] One of my students, who sits on the front row (and shall remain nameless) said, “Please don’t do that, Mr. Houtchens! It’s annoying!”
“Oh, you mean this?” [jingle, jingle, jingle]
“So this bothers you?” [jingle, jingle, jingle]
“Now you know how I feel.” [jingle, jingle, jingle]
By this time the class was in stitches, and so was this particular student. It became somewhat of a running joke for the rest of the school year. Thereafter, every time that student did something that I considered annoying, the inevitable occurred.
“Hey, Mr. Houtchens, how does it feel to be BALD?”
“Like this.” [jingle, jingle, jingle]

This student began to bring signs to class, to hold up as a form of silent protest, like Wile Coyote. I would say “Get out your notes class… today we are….” And I would look up and see this kid holding up this piece of paper protesting that we did too much work. Stuff like that. That would get ME laughing! This is just one example of how wonderful it was to teach this group of kids this year.

As they leave, I pray for their blessing and protection. That they would grow up safe and well. That perhaps, they would see some small part of God’s love in me, and know that they are truly loved.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Goodbye, Reverend Falwell

With the news of Reverend Falwell’s death, I was shocked and dismayed. A plethora of strong feelings came abruptly to the surface as a result of the time I spent in my college years at Liberty University. As I scoured the net, I read many, many things about Jerry that were not very pleasant. That he and his entourage refused to tip waitresses in restaurants in Lynchburg. That he was a divisive force for doubt, grief and pain to many people. That he encouraged hatred towards others in one respect or another. That he bilked millions out of his followers to establish for himself and his family a lavish lifestyle. That he set himself and his followers up as a group which represented judgment rather than love.

I don’t know. Perhaps these things are true, perhaps not. I guess some of it depends on your own personal perspective of the man. One thing I did realize was that those who passed judgment upon him in their posts (on the ABC news message boards) did the very same thing that they accused him of doing. With that in mind, I posted the following message on those boards:

I attended Liberty University in the early 1980's. After I left, I was, in retrospect, disillusioned with my faith. I felt let down by what I thought would be an incredible faith-building experience which instead turned out to be (in my own opinion) an experience involving the rules of and traditions of men. I have been trying to work this out since I left- I still get the heebie-jeebies in large churches. I had hoped at some time to contact Rev. Falwell to clear the air. When I heard of his death, I prayed asking God to let Jerry know that I forgive him, and to gather, bless and love him wherever he may be. Jerry, I forgive you. Glenn Houtchens

The time has come for judgmentalism to end. One does not need to hold to Christian fundamentalism in order for God’s love to be shed abroad, like a candle on a lamp stand. One does not need to hold to certain denominational (Baptist) theological viewpoints in order to be able to tell right from wrong. Frankly, I have enough issues on my own plate (and I DO have issues) without having to worry about setting other people straight. There is a place for correction; a place for acceptance and love. Are these not both really different aspects of the same thing? May wisdom, discernment and humility guide our actions by the leading of the Holy Spirit of God.

Rest in Peace, Jerry. For good or ill, you have affected us all, and that’s something that not many people often do. I ask God’s blessing upon you as you continue your journey.

Glenn Houtchens

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Steamroller

Today I devote my column to a question that seeks an answer. A steamroller is gathering momentum in American politics. It is an angry juggernaut that is plodding slowly and inexorably towards next November, when the next American president will be elected. That juggernaut is the Democratic Party, and right now they have the momentum.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama seem to be the choice that is being plugged by the media. According to ABC, CBS, and NBC they can do no wrong. And truthfully, our sitting president is in the doghouse, for his failure to have vision as commander in chief to predict the consequences of his actions, as well as his inability to communicate his thoughts to the American people. [Forget the fact that nearly all democrats voted for the authorization to go into Iraq, they are riding on the president’s disfavor.]

This brings me to my current dilemma. The single issue that will decide where I cast my vote will not be made from an economic perspective. I don’t care about money, personally (although I hate to see it wasted by those in power.) I don’t care much about the newest liberal philosophy, that of saving (worshipping) our environment by reason of guilt. The single issue that will decide my vote will be that of the value of human life. I have no desire to see our country continue its barbaric practice of throwing babies into the fire, as a sacrifice to the god of convenience as a “right of personal choice.”

I see no contender currently running that has a chance of defeating either of these democratic nominees. Giuliani, McCain, and Romney all in the lead in polls, but they are not sparking the interest of Americans. They are similar, in my own opinion, to the Bob Dole/Jack Kemp ticket years ago that failed to address issues and failed to be innovative in their campaign and message. They were defeated before they even ran.

There is one person that I believe has a chance of defeating the steamroller. The person represents a steep grade of intelligence and communication. That person is Newt Gingrich. Gingrich is an avid student of history, something that seems to be lacking in all current candidates. If he were to take Fred Thompson as running mate, that would make for a great ticket, solidly based on Reagan type conservatives, something the Democrats fear greatly.

Just my thoughts. Here’s the link for the ABC news discussion page:

Friday, May 11, 2007

Modern Slavery

[Above- Gulf Coast Marine Institute in 1988; I am at far left, Roscoe is in the white shirt.]

Recently, several states in response to pressure from black constituents, issued apologies for the governmental sponsorship of slavery before the Civil War. One can argue from both sides of this issue. Slavery is wrong. No one alive during this century has been a legal "slave;" no one alive has made another a slave by this definition. Therefore, one can see how it is good on one hand for the state to admit it was wrong (albeit after over 150 years), however, one can see how it is wrong for people to accept responsibility for actions made by ancestors 5 or more generations removed.

There is another form of slavery however, that is real, is happening today, and is a serious threat to our society. I find it oddly disturbing that those who are most vocal about previous transgressions are strangely silent on this issue. I am talking about drug addiction, narcotics specifically.

Those who choose to partake of such things quickly find that their "choice" in the matter quickly vanishes as their brain becomes hardwired for the continued abuse of such drugs in a pattern of addiction. They are no longer the person they once were, for their brain chemistry has changed, permanently. They become hollow shells, seeking only to find their next fix in a nightmare of pavlovian desire.

The year was 1987. I was working at a place called Gulf Coast Marine Institute, in Sarasota, Florida. Juvenile offenders there were given scuba and sailing lessons in order to give them some positive life experiences. This was done in an attempt to reduce the rate at which such persons become permanent wards of the state, in jail. I was part of the educational department there, helping kids keep up with their studies until they graduated from the program.

One of our brightest students was a teenager named Jeff. Jeff was a model participant, making great progress in the program while encouraging his peers to do likewise. He was a leader there. He was intelligent and very friendly and popular, with peers and staff alike. At the same time, break ins were occurring during the night at the institute, and the petty cash box was being systematically raided.

One day there was a staff party planned for after work, and we all met at a restaurant to relax and unwind in a social situation away from the stress of our jobs. Afterwards, Roscoe and I swung by the Institute to drop off some equipment before going home. It was early evening.

While there, we heard some noises coming from the back door. Quietly creeping to the common room, we realized we had caught the perpetrators who were doing the break ins! Using hand signals, I went back to the front office for the camera as our unknown thief continued to use a crowbar to pry open the steel door and lockbolt. Roscoe stood by the door and did a silent 3 count using his fingers. Three... Two... One... Zero! Roscoe pulled the bar and threw open the door (which opened to the inside) and I flashed the camera at some very surprised individuals. Well they took off like a bat out of hell, and we called the police. In retrospect, it was rather foolish for us to do this, as we had no idea whether they were armed with firearms or not.

You have probably guessed by now, that it was Jeff, along with his younger brother. They had been stealing from the petty cash box in order to buy crack cocaine. The police arrested them at their house later that evening. As it turns out, they had threatened to kill their mom unless she allowed them to do crack. I believe they would have. It was an incredibly sad and sobering situation. Jeff had such hope- such promise. It all started with ONE choice, one decision, whereas afterwards the freedom to make a choice was taken away. I have no doubt that Jeff today is either in prison, or dead.

Neal Boortz wants to legalize these drugs, because it would COST LESS to enforce the law, and take away the power and money from those who would smuggle it across the border. Wrong, Neal. Evil does indeed exist in our world, and we must not lose the will to fight it, no matter the cost.

armchair coach
amateur historian

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Gamers are Lamers

That's a phrase that I learned from a freind of mine that I used to play AD&D with, a nice guy by the name of Mark. I played Everquest for a few years in the early to mid 90's, and it can be very addicting. [Inset- screenshot from the website of my old guild, Triad Continuum] I happened to find a video that illustrates the idea of something quite common with online role playing games called "guild drama," when freindships forged in the game are strained over differing goals or new alliances. For example, players typically fall into one of two camps: those who play for social reasons and those who are powergamers. The socialites like to hang out with freinds whereas the powergamers are driven to accumulate levels (power) and wealth in the form of high end items. Thus, a natural schism occurs after a certain amount of time that causes guilds (groups of players banded together for a common purpose) to split up. It's an interesting sociological phenomenon.

The video is not set in Everquest, but instead in WoW, the World of Warcraft. It is purposefully over dramatic, which I find amusing, since even though overblown, it still illustrates the types of things that happen in MMORPG's (mass multiplayer online role playing games.) I personally feel that writing is a better medium than movies, since the imagination is more actively engaged. Note: This movie would be rated as PG as it contains some offensive language, but not alot more than what one would expect from Disney nowadays. Thus, I will not imbed it onto my blogsite, but will put a link if you are interested in seeing it. If you are under 16, you will need to get your parents permission. The title of the movie is Jimmy: The World of Warcraft Story. I hope you find it as amusing as I did. "I'M A CHARGIN' MY FIREBALL!" lol

Jimmy: The World of Warcraft Story

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Serious Hollywood Horror

Here is an attempt to post my first video link. Hope I can get it to work. When I saw this, I began laughing so hard that I must have turned 20 shades of red. I began pounding my desk and when it was over my stomach hurt from laughing so hard. My dogs wondered what was wrong with me. I can still barely type as I try to get this link to work. Click below and get ready for some spine chilling thrills. By the way, you will not understand the nuance unless you are over 40 years of age. Make sure your sound is turned up. Click the link and enjoy.


[Above- the trio from 2nd Chapter of Acts, siblings Nellie, Matt and Annie, a group that blessed me immeasurably in college- I cry whenever I hear them sing, and I cannot wait to sing with them in heaven]

I got iTunes last week and I have been impressed. I have added this music to my morning routine each day and it has been an incredible blessing. The iTunes program itself is free, and each song costs 99 cents- how can you beat that, instead of purchasing whole albums? 30 second clip previews are available for free. Of special note, I discovered that iTunes includes Christian bands from the early 80’s, such as Petra and 2nd Chapter of Acts, and that is nostalgia lane to me. To add to your enjoyment, the album covers of each song are displayed as they play, scrolling in a cool cinematic when the next song in the play list begins. Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra are available for the blue hairs.

Below is a list of songs I have added to my lineup. After some work, I have discovered some links so you can click and listen! A few of these are windows media player files; most are quicktime. However, if you want to check out iTunes, you can download the program and then just type in the name of your favorite artist and it will display the many, many tracks available by each one, ranked by popularity.

Chris Rice Smellin’ Coffee
Audio Adrenaline Ocean Floor
Steven Curtis Chapman Live Out Loud
Casting Crowns Voice of Truth
Petra Lord, I Lift Your Name on High
2nd Chapter of Acts Which Way the Wind Blows
Jars of Clay Love Song for a Savior
Third Day God of Wonders
Building 429 Power of Your Name [click on preview button for LP]
Chris Tomlin All Bow Down
Chris Tomlin King of Glory
Building 429 No One Else
Michael W. Smith Prince of Peace
Michael W. Smith Place in This World
Jars of Clay Like a Child
Jars of Clay Flood
Jars of Clay Show Your Love

May I Help You, Centurion?

Many years ago in Israel, Centurions roamed the streets of Jerusalem in one of many occupied countries, enforcing dominion with soldiers who had authority to basically do as they pleased in administering Rome’s laws. Essentially this boiled down to roaming mobs of armored Roman soldiers who went about extorting people in shakedowns for “taxes” and in some cases, I am sure, generally just being bullies, as power has the tendency to corrupt. This infuriated the Jews who saw their money going to support pagan works in Rome.

Much the same thing is happening today, in my own eyes. Officers who used to go by the vow “to protect and serve” instead have become revenue raising agents for the state. For example, in Denver, motorcycle cops have received an order to write 2 traffic tickets per hour on duty (regardless of whether said citizens were breaking the law or not.) This is not in the public interest, but simply to pad some coffers in a city municipality. One would think that such duties could instead be spent protecting citizens instead of robbing them. Here’s the link to this story:

Jesus did not address these political issues, which were hot topics of the times. Rather, he took to himself Matthew, a tax collector, to be one of his disciples. In my own mind, he saw beyond the earthly power of political institutions. God’s kingdom resides in the hearts of men, and it was here He sought to bring His ministry.

Additionally, I am very concerned with the actions of the LAPD over the weekend. A peaceful demonstration for the rights of illegal immigrants was occurring in a park there, with thousands of people attending. (I am strongly against illegal immigration, as many more Americans have been killed by illegal immigrants than have been killed in Iraq, but forget the biased news reporting on THAT story.) Unarmed people were fired upon with rubber bullets by a “gang” of police that were telling the demonstrators to break up. Reporters who were on the scene were unlawfully ordered to put their cameras away and in one instance a female cameraman was attacked with a billy club from behind. Other cameras were seized, I understand. Here is the link to the video, it’s rather chilling:

Long gone are the days of squeaky clean Adam-12, where officers actually served the people, although perhaps this view is simply just the sanitized perception of the way things were supposed to be, a Leave It to Beaver/Truman Show sort of thing. One of the first shows to question government’s motives was “The Prisoner,” and I hope to discuss this show in one of my future articles. (Outstanding article- click and read it!)

Armchair coach
Amateur historian

PS Thanks to the FunTimesGuide for the picture. I used MS Paint to insert the Centurion.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Like A Little Bird

Last Sunday morning, 8 am. I am sitting in the house and the question hits me again. Do I go to church? One would think that such a decision would be a simple one- go if you want to. It’s not so easy for me. I don’t want to be motivated by condemnation. I don’t want to be motivated by thoughts of myself just being selfish and not worth sharing myself with others. I don’t want to be motivated by any form of coercion or legalistic form of requirement. I want to go because it is in my heart to do so. So, once more, I rock back and forth, saying, I want to go but I don’t want to. I don’t know. Maybe I have been hurt somehow. Maybe it’s a combination of things. One thing I know, Father Kurt and the folks at Christ the Redeemer have not put any stress on me for either attending or not, understanding me, I guess, in a way, better than I do myself, and for that I am grateful.

This particular morning rather than anguishing over it and winding up just picking the lesser of evils and staying home (where it’s safe!), I went to my bedroom to talk to God. So, I told Him what’s going on. Why am I in such a struggle over this thing? Why do I fret so? What’s the matter with me? Then I just sat and waited.

Eventually, I became aware of the birds outside my house singing. I went to the window and peered through the blinds, parting them with my fingers and squinting into the morning brightness. “My,” I thought. “God must surely smile at these wonderful birds who sing with such beauty.” Then the thought occurred to me. If God smiles at these birds of his creation, how much more so does He surely smile at his children who lift songs of praise to him with their lives? I saw myself then as a small bird, cooped up in my house, a birdhouse of sorts, who does not come out to sing often along with the others. When I do though, does He not see me and smile at this bird of sorts who has joined his voice with the others?

I went to church last week. Perhaps the idea of my being a sort of Cuckoo is apt, but I for one am thankful that God is not finished with me yet.


Well, after a break I am ready to write again. This time I shall be choosing a topic that I am particularly sensitive to, thus the title, Walls. The story begins with part of my not quite daily devotions.

Usually I use my commute time to work to pray for those I have had the privilege to know. This includes a list of students whom I have taught over the years. These students are troubled, for one reason or another. They face differing issues of isolation, temptation, ridicule, lack of compassion, low self esteem; any number of things that affect young folks in the angst filled years of middle school. Incidentally, I see a small part of myself in each of these people that I have added to my prayer list, asking for God in His mercy to intervene in their lives, to bless them and surround them with angels to protect them and guide them to seek Him; for God’s will in their lives to be done.

Now on a recent field trip I was chatting with one of the parent chaperones, and I mentioned one of the people on my prayer list that I have been praying for for years. She replied, “Him? His bus stop is near my house and I have observed him being mercilessly teased and spat upon by his peers. He has taken to wearing a black trench coat, and I am very worried about him.”

Now this concerned me greatly. I will call this young man James. I asked if she knew how I could get in touch with him and she replied that he worked at one of the local superstores in the area. I knew I had to contact James somehow, and I wondered if I did what I would say to him.

The next day was Saturday and I hopped into the truck and began visiting local stores. I had no luck after about 90 minutes of running around. Then I found a store in Roswell, and sure enough he was working there.

“James!” I said as I found him at the register in the electronics department. “How are you? It’s SO GOOD to see you again after these many years!” We were both smiling and he seemed surprized. He was still overweight with a pale complexion and had grown a thin fuzzy beard. As I came up to the register the others who were working there wandered away, perhaps understanding that I wanted to have a few private words with my former student. The following is what I had to say to this young man, this very special person in the sight of God, and in my own heart. I had some things planned out to say, but at the moment every word fled from my thoughts, and I struggled for what to say.

James, I have good news for you, and you look like you could use some. I understand you are being picked on. However, I have been praying for you every week since you left my class in the 7th grade. Soon, these people who torment you will be left behind when you graduate from high school, and you will be able to make a fresh start in a new place. I understand you have taken to wearing a trench coat, and I that this may represent the walls you have built to protect you from … pain. Having walls are normal, but be careful, because the walls that we build to protect us can also serve to keep us inside and isolate us. And believe it or not, even in the midst of pain, God has purpose. You see, one day, you may meet a young man who is being tormented, just as you have been. On that day, you will be able to tell him “I understand what you are going through. I know. I have been there.” Then, it will be your turn, you see, to pray for them, just as I have been praying for you. And if you ever feel like you are going to explode, like you are going to lose it, call me. I will come running. By this time we were both crying. I took my leave, and cried some more in my truck in the parking lot.

In retrospect, I realize that these words I spoke to James were meant, in a way, for me as well. For the walls that I have erected to protect myself are a prison of sorts. I have eschewed social situations in favor of isolation, to the point where I have never been married. I have been a member of the church praise team twice, and twice I have walked away without going to church for 3 months without so much as a word to anyone. People get too close to me and I become a human clam, closing up and hiding within my own house. God have mercy on me. I wonder sometimes why the folks at Christ the Redeemer have anything to do with me at all.

But I am not alone, by any means. Some people dive into their jobs, becoming consumed with the drive to acquire wealth or find self-fulfillment, at the cost of relationships in their lives. Some live out fantasy lives in online MMORPG’s, mass multiplayer online role playing games. You can name any activity, however benign, and there will be those who dive into it to avoid pain or pursue pleasure. It’s a normal reaction found in all of us- after all, that’s how we teach our pets to become housetrained. Some folks even avoid pleasure and pursue pain, in an attempt to purge themselves of whatever issues they face. It’s the same thing, flipped around.

The question is, what are your walls? How did they come about, and what role do they play in your own life? Are they of a normal size, or are they exaggerated to the point of being an obstacle to future growth?

Dear God,
Hi. It’s me again. Good morning =). In as much as I am able, I give my walls to you. Come and inhabit the place they occupy, and do as You please with them in my life. Help me in my weakness. Help me to love. Help me to be as You want me to be. Let me be as an open book, that in spite of my imperfections, that others might somehow see Your love through me. I love you.

Glenn =)