Pirates of the Caribbean 3

RATING :: a 10-pack of White Castle sliders eaten around midnight on a car trip that come back to haunt me at a roadside rest area.

Think about this for a second...you sit down at a bountiful smorgasbord for Thanksgiving with every mouth watering piece of holiday food imaginable. You load your plate up to overflowing and sit down to consume this succulent meal, but the various dishes have poured over into each other because the plate is so full...the individual tastes that are exquisite alone are lost to the mediocre taste of the now combined elements. And although the taste is not terrible...it lacks the distinctiveness you were hoping for.

That's how I describe the latest in "Pirates of the Caribbean" series...an over bloated piece of summer film. A movie plate full of potential early that rapidly falls into an overstuffed piece of various side stories and convoluted accents which regularly dispense critical elements of the plot. Clocking in at almost 3 hours, I found myself restless and looking at my watch many times. Someone tell the writers it's OK to take away 3 of the 5 sideline stories in favor of bolstering the main.

Although the following (with my modifications) is taken from a review about the new Russian film "Daywatch", it brilliantly derives the essence of the cinematic problem with this overblown sequel:

"The worst thing Pirates has picked up is the tendency of megasequels to aggrandize material grown enervated, to compensate for thinness by spreading out. The story sporadically jerks to life, then settles back into the maudlin, distracted, or merely vacant. For an hour or so there's rhythmic excitement in these spasmodic rhythms, the weird rush of something unpredictably unhinged."

- Nathan Lee, Village Voice

If you watched the trilogy thus far from beginning to end, you would need almost 9 hours. Bless their hearts but someone break out the red pen and start slashing scenes and story lines. Every film does not need to pack in more than the previous...just make it entertaining. This series was never meant for anything else.

BTW :: I didn't wait until after the credits but there is a secret ending with an interesting twist.

Smile, you're walking into an Adult Bookstore

Google continues creating interaction and controversy with maps. Google Earth was an awesome tool for us when we moved...we could get an idea of the neighborhood layout, location of train tracks, busy streets and yard sizes.

They now offer a beta "Street View" feature that offers actual Virtual Reality of the area. You see license plates, people's faces and in this case, a guy walking into an Adult Bookstore. Oops...being anonymous just got harder.


Wandering the Web Wednesdays

Musicovery: Interactive web radio
I make no secret of my love for new and inventive music so this new site is a great tool. If you've ever tried theVisual Thesaurus and enjoyed the interface...this is the same idea but for music. Pandora is another great tool to discover new music.

"Thou shall kill"
A funky spoken word song that's amazing.

Banned from Kmart
Imagine every funny prank you could pull in a store then it's pulled off by one family who are promptly sent this letter from Kmart.

Send an Ecard...or maybe not?
These cards are over-the-top but hilarious.

Typo Art
Art made from words.

A use of Flash in the most innovative and interactive sense...you can waste an hour here.


The ratings for TV and Church are down

The Hollywood Reporter has a fascinating article about the rapid decline of live TV viewership...down 10% over 2006. The DVR (digital video recorder) has changed the landscape of everything in the ever democratized world of media consumption. No show was spared from the wrath of the decline...from "Grey's Anatomy" to "LOST", "American Idol" to "CSI".

There are more choices than ever for audiences and people are consuming media differently with outlets virtually everywhere. The same goes for church...with the myriad of options for possible attendees from a church on every corner to sermons available for download to video campuses...people are consuming church differently. The audience share is being split across a broad spectrum of options. It leaves the modern church with some decisions to make about strategically using the audience they have and how they can continually reach out beyond their walls to the changing world of "church consumption".

Harsh Times

RATING :: a piece of sushi with too much wasabi

David Ayer made a name for himself by writing the Academy award winning "Training Day". His constant exploration of the dark side of law enforcement borders on overly bleak and "Harsh Times" (written and directed by Ayer) is no different.

Christian Bale (from "Batman Begins" fame) stars as Jim Davis, an ex-Army Ranger, returning home to LA. His continual attempts to join law enforcement are denied and his frustration grows to the point of boiling over. Bale brings another powerful performance to the table although it is strangely reminscent of the wild eyed Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho". A wandering slightly tamed killing machine whose leash has been released...strolling the streets bored and purposeless.

The opening he finds himself offered is a Black Ops drug operative in Columbia requiring him to leave everything behind and become a ghost. But when things seem to be coming together...the ticking time bomb begins its final countdown. The demons in his head overwhelm and decision after decision leads him to his ultimate demise. I'm a fan of darker material as if often more honesty explores the human condition but this is a pitch black drama...very little of anything that could be called redemptive.


Heroes and Humanism

Did you watch the Heroes finale? A fantastically entertaining piece of comic book TV except for one small thing...it's preachy. I have a major pet peeve when it comes to storytelling that I can give full credit to Madeleine L'Engle:

"...story is the revelation of truth."

One of the character, Mohinder Soresh, has voice overs consistently throughout the series. Many of them push the ideas of story instead of letting the story speak for itself. Regardless if I agree or not with the philosophy Tim Kring, the creator of the show, espouses throughout (I do not for many reasons), he oversteps a basic rule of writing...let your story do the talking.

The voice overs may provide us, the audience, with context for the direction of the story but to try and convince us of a world view overtly...come on. Here's a sample of the dialogue:

"So much struggle for meaning. But in the end, we find it only in each other: our shared experience of the fantastic and the mundane. The simple human need to find a kindred. And to know in our hearts that we are not alone."

How many times do Christians get hassled for similar dialogue if it points toward a Christian world view? What if the dialogue would have read this instead:

So much struggle for meaning. But in the end, we find it only in the divine: our shared experience of what God has created as the fantastic and the mundane. The simple human need to find a kindred. And to know in our hearts that we are not alone...there is a God.

The few words changed would have been decried as proselytizing. A preposterous attempt to evangelize. The voice over seems desperate to convince us that this world is all we have...the search for the divine is nothing more than an illusion. This human experience is it...the meaning and purpose of it all. Instead of the hope I think he intended...I find it anti-climatic and depressing.

I also found it to take away from the conclusion of one of the better stories on TV. I would have been fine with such a diatribe if it hadn't attempted to reach from the fictitious universe it created into the everyday world in which we live with such "piety".

Being a father...

Jill has been in Colorado for the past 3 days and I've had a chance to hang out a ton with the boys. The last two nights, although exhausting, I have been amazed to be a father. I look at these budding two boys and sit in awe. It seems only a bit ago when I graduated college (10 years ago) or was married (8 years ago) yet life has hurried toward the point at which I am now. I sat with Soren in my lap lost in the throes of sleep and Nolan dreaming above in his room. There is such complete trust...a house full of the future and a dad in wonder.


Creating Community

Ben announced formally this past Sunday that I was the new director of Life Groups. It is something I have alluded to already but find myself charged with renewed energy to see where this will lead.

The challenge is to help cultivate a vibrant community with sustainable leadership. We have begun to form a team of people who have experienced the joy of being in a Life Group. Here's what we're saying about Life Groups at Four Corners:

"A Life Group is the best place for community and connecting. A gathering of people where life change happens. It can happen over a meal, impacting our community through service, in conversations about the Bible or in innumerable other ways...Life Groups can happen anywhere!

A Life Group will challenge you to connect with other people and grow in your relationship with God. It is a short term (some last only 4 weeks but the max is 6 months with the idea of growth as a key element) commitment to experiencing church as it should be...a place of doing not just listening.

Practically speaking, there will never be a way for the staff to personally connect to everyone who attends our church. That's why we believe Life Groups are so essential at Four Corners."

So if you're at Four Corners...get involved and hold on. If you're in Cincinnati looking for a church...come get plugged in. And if you're in a church that doesn't have Life Groups (small groups)...get them started!

When innovation is questioned

I've written about the iPhone before and innovative climate Apple creates where ever it goes. And, by being the pioneer of sorts for innovative technology for the masses, they are constantly and relentlessly questioned. Simply read the infamous Thread 500 from MacRumors when the original iPod emerged...the seeds of doubt were sown deep.

So it is no surprise to watch the questions being hurled at the iPhone. Information Week has a column on the "Top 7 Questions for Steve Jobs" about the phone and some of them are very legitimate. I think the tendency we as consumers (and proud owners) of Apple's innovative products have is to become defensive, but we forget questioning leads to more innovation and development. Apple, or any company for that matter, can't foresee all the user questions and possible problems coming. Questioning should not be seen as the enemy of progress but an arm of innovation.


Community rocks!

Last night Jill and I started our new Life Group with 6 couples. We dined at Johnny Carino's, drank Italian beer and chatted the night away. I love watching people connect...experiencing what church can (and should do) best...grassroots COMMUNITY. I'm looking forward to where this group will go.

I have said this before and will beat this drum all day: Church is the best community on planet Earth. It's better than any bar, softball team, knitting club, fraternity, or coffee shop. The problem is that we love to put hoops up for people to jump through in order to be "in". Well, I'm personally saying what Howard Beale said in "Network" :

"You've got to say, 'I'm a HUMAN BEING! My life has VALUE!' So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!'

Then we'll figure out what to do about the declining attendance in church and the lack of community and the loss of hope in our lives. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it." (modifications by me to emphasize the point)

I'm mad that we, the church, have made our community exclusionary and elitist. Significant spiritual growth happens in community and it's time to kick it in gear. I ready to bust down those obstructions that keep church from being a place of vibrant life. I'm excited to see what God is going to do with people doing community at Four Corners and beyond.

Summer is coming and you need a good show

Summer is the desert of quality TV shows. You have one reality show after another. Your best bet is a show on DVD. And may I recommend one NBC decided to cancel (in their infinite wisdom)...Kidnapped. Gritty, exciting and a twist and turns to keep you guessing. Think of "Man on Fire" meets "Ransom" meets "3 Days of a Condor" conspiracy-type.


A "24" makeover?

People have been taking pot shots at "24" for this season's "lackluster" storyline. Many have called it a simple rehashing of the same old formula...lacking the snap, crackle and pop of last season. TV Guide reports the writers are working on "reinventing" the show for next season.

It worked for James Bond and Battlestar Galatica...let's see if Jack Bauer can stand a nip/tuck or maybe THERE'S NO TIME!!

UPDATE :: CNN posted some more news this morning about 24 moving outside of LA and bringing a brand new cast minus Keifer.

The new iPod and Flickr Vision

Apple just submitted a patent for the next generation iPod. It's a beauty...very much in the vein of the iPhone. (Thanks webeldotnet for the heads up)

I love Flickr and post all the time. Dave Troy has created a fun new way of using Flickr's geocoding (placing your photo on a map) called Flickr Vision.

FREE monsters for you to build!

Fun little FREE creations you can print out and make. I think a few of these may show up on my desk. Thanks Readymech and FWIS.

Does your creative work whisper or roar?

Sam Harrison, author of "Zing!", has some great tenets of creativity to move your creative work from simply whispering your message to roaring it with clarity. In a creativity on-demand culture a lot of creative directors and designers live in...the pressure to perform can be enormous. Hopefully some of these will provide some wisdom for us all:

1. Don’t stop with the first idea you spot. Even if it’s a good idea, it’s probably the same one everyone else would spot. And the good is often the enemy of the best. Put the first three ideas aside and dig deeper.

2. Laugh. A common trait of most creative people is the ability to laugh at themselves and their circumstances. OK, Hemingway had no humor, but do you want his ending? Don’t take yourself too damn seriously.

3. Work hard.
Wanting it with all your being isn’t enough. You’ve got to do the work. Stay up late. Get up early. Take responsibility.

4. Be childlike. Not childish, but childlike. Wide eyes. “How come” questions. Playful. Giddy. Eager.

5. Keep a notebook. Creativity seldom happens in front of a computer. We spot ideas while walking down the street, sitting in Starbucks, stuck in traffic. Find a notebook that feels good in your hand. Use it.

Read the rest of Harrison's tenets here as well as explore his ZingZone website.


And you thought your job was hard?

I just Stumbled on this video and it's mesmerizing. I never knew a job like this even existed.

New Series :: TEST DRIVE

TEST DRIVE program
Originally uploaded by ryanhartsock.

We start a dynamic new series this weekend at Four Corners. Church for many is a spectator sport...listening, pondering, wondering. You will never really know what church really is unless you DO something with what is being said. In this series we are asking people to "test drive" different areas of action they can take to see if it doesn't make church more meaningful...prayer, community out reach, giving, volunteering and Life Groups.

Each week people will get a "license" (see this week's HERE) for that week. For example, this week we are looking at volunteering so they get a license for that with specific areas in the church they can volunteer in. We are hoping for a huge response.


Dips and Cul-de-sacs of being creative

Seth Godin has an interesting new mini-book coming out entitled "The Dip". It explores the idea of failing, sticking and how it can benefit us as creative people. He looks at how we create a status quo that makes failure almost impossible and, therefore, makes creativity stale. You can't fail in your short film if you don't aim to make the next Academy Award winning short film.

Todd Henry of the Accidental Creative has a terrific interview with Godin on his podcast.

"Either write 'I am average' or 'I am exceptional' and post it next to your computer. If you wrote 'exceptional' then how dare you create average material." - Seth Godin


I have no money BUT I need to advertise...

This is always our dilemma...no money but the need for marketing is clear. Here are some great guerrilla marketing ideas...what do you think? (Thanks Cory Miller)

10 Techniques to devise a creative solution for any project

HOW magazine had a great article by Jane Fulton Suri, the Chief Creative Director at IDEO, about creative problem solving. It offers some amazing practical advice. Check out the list:

1. Seek inspiration from everyday interactions.
Look for ad hoc ways we behave in real life.

2. Disrupt the normal flow.
Develop a discipline of witnessing ordinary things by going out into the world.

3. Document behavior and focus on action.

4. Seek out extreme situations.
Pursue experience beyond what we know or live in every day to see anew.

5. Invite curiousity.
Ask "naive" questions that reach beyond authentic assumptions.

6. Reveal what's intuitive.
Be conscious of subconscious, spontaneous reactions.

7. Uncover emotional experiences.
Connect to feelings to determine responses we intend to elicit through design or communication.

8. Tune into cultural patterns.
Find meaning and themes in various situations.

9. Tap resources.
Inform the experience with input from clients, experts and the experienced.

10. Seek flexible and enduring solutions.
Not everything requires a makeover...sometimes simple is best.


Does multi-siting dilute the church?

It's all the rage...multi-site churches. You have a main campus with satellite campuses spread around the city, state or even the country. Many, many churches are doing it. The latest campus of the Oklahoma-based Life Church is Albany, NY. Also Fellowship Church in Grapevine, TX recently launched a new campus in Miami, FL. One could say this trend is the equivalent of franchising a successful church or is it?

I was reading an article about Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, MI and the decisions they made to make them the coolest small company in America. They made intentional decisions to avoid the lucrative model of franchising, instead choosing to pioneer a new vision for small businesses...a community of businesses. They had a vision in 1994 to have 12 to 15 separate businesses by 2009. Each would have the badge Zingerman's but would have its own niche and identity. Each company would have a manager/owner and they didn't even have to be limited to the food-service industry.

"We wanted the passion. We wanted people who had visions of their own. Otherwise, whatever we did would be mediocre, and the whole idea was to elevate the quality of each element of the company." - Ari Weinzweig

The article goes on to talk about the incredible success of their vision. Moving from 1 business in 1994 to 8 currently. They average one new business every 18 months. They went from employing 125 to over 545 now as well as moving profit from $6 million to over $30 million. And now Zingerman is looking again to the future...

OK...How does this all have anything to do with the church and its multi-siting rage? I see the Zingerman's vision for their company as inspirational to the church. How can we expand our influence and scope without sacrificing the uniqueness that attracted people in our community the first time? Are we creating mediocre _______ (place your church name here) clones instead of creating pioneering places with dynamic visions? Or are we creating a community of churches sharing vision but having their own niche and identity? No tidy answer here for now but a provoking example for us to use as food for thought (pun intended).

“Our goal in 2020 is to leave our world better than it was when we came here,”Weinzweig said.

(Thanks Brand Autopsy for the catalyst)

The front door

Being 6'6" is rough sometimes..not only do I often find myself ducking through doors but also banging into a lot of things. Church is often the same way...our "front door" experience is often one for people to duck and many of our happenings seem to simply be places for people to "bang" around.

As I have been a church staff member for almost 3 years now I have learned a lot about the "front door". If you're not familiar with the term "front door", it simply means the experience someone has coming to your church before they step any further into the "house". The front door experience would be coffee, greeters, information areas and Sunday services. All of these open the church's door...sometimes it can be huge and other times small.

When I say small I'm talking about the feeling and notions people come away with as well as the clarity of why they should move into the "living room" and "kitchen" areas. Now this analogy may sound like it is getting extended too far but think about it. We only welcome someone into the intimate parts of our house if we trust them and that's exactly what many come to church scrutinizing...can we be trusted?

At Four Corners we are constantly refining the flow from one place to the next...making the door large and welcoming with friendly people greeting everyone at the doors, a coffee bar, a clear place for information, and a service that creatively engages and challenges people to look at what Jesus has to say about our lives. We are currently working on simplifying the process for people to move from the "front door" experience to the other rooms where community and connection happen. Making church more of an experience than a weekly event.

The question we ask ourselves and I believe all churches should...is our front door open and welcoming?


Organization + Hope

I just spent the evening sorting through all the pieces that make Four Corners Church happen with about 15 other guys. We sorted, tossed, cleaned, and streamlined our process.

I take a lot of joy in taking something good and creating the makings of something great. That's how I feel right now with it all...we are on the verge. God is taking us somewhere we have only begun to see.

My job title is getting slightly tweaked by Ben to meet one of the most pressing needs in our community and I'm excited to rise to the occasion. I continue to believe the church is the best community on planet Earth...full of contradictions but still great. You find belonging, connectedness, meaning, joy, comfort, hilarity, profundity and levity...and in the midst of it all you realize church is full of people just like you. Normal people trying to do life who have found what God offers makes life simply better. If you can't tell, I believe the local church is the hope of the world. God has a face...

Green is God

It's official...the new religion of many is going green.


So you want to fly (for frickin' cheap)?

Ben just helped me discover a funky new airline called SkyBus. They fly between 8 cities non-stop and have modeled after Ryanair in Europe...a no-frills, ultra-low cost airline. It starts flying on May 22nd. Right now I could fly from Columbus, OH to North Carolina for $10/one way...that's crazy!

Trends, trends and more trends!

USA Today recently published a list of 25 trends since 1982 that have shaped the landscape of America. Some of them are diversity, gay rights, and luxury goes mainstream...read the article to see the rest. (thanks Catalyst for the heads up)