Monthly Archives: July 2008

Catalyst Social Experiment #4

I received a package in the mail yesterday afternoon from Catalyst.  Inside the package I found a moleskin journal and an envelope of names.  I opened the brown leather journal and read the challenge.  I had 24 hours to perform one of the 30 projects described in the first few pages of the journal, and then I had to send the journal on to the next person on the list.  For the next hour I was paralyzed – Which experiment can I accomplish in 24 hours?


I knew the challenge was coming but I didn’t know exactly when.  My initial reaction to the package was “Not today??!!”  My wife was out of town at a conference, and I was on kid duty.  (I have three ages 7, 5, and 3).  Over the next 24 hours I had to get my three kids to dental appointments at 9:40, be back at the house by noon for a garage door installation, and then have my youngest down for her two-hour nap by 1.  This didn’t leave a whole lot of time for random acts of kindness.  Well, I work best when my back is against the proverbial wall.  I needed a project that the kids could do with me, and hopefully get something out of.  I asked my oldest daughter, Claire, which one she wanted to do.  She chose


Experiment #4 – Buy 100 popsicles and pass them out to people that need a sweet this afternoon.


Now we needed to decide who needed a sweet treat.  I decided to make a call to one of my good friends Tony McGinnis.  Tony works for the Huntsville Housing Authority, and is a well respected person in an area of town that is under-resourced.  (Tony was raised in this area of Huntsville, played basketball for Texas A&M, has written a book, and is an incredible role model for these children).  I told him that I had 24 hours to give out 100 popsicles.  He got me connected to the Boys and Girls Club in the Sparkman Housing complex. 




The day worked out perfectly!  Dentist appointments were done at 10:20.  Popsicles were bought by 10:50.  I let the kids choose the type of popsicles (Claire – Crayola Scriblers, Joshua – Superheros, and Claudia – Dora).  We arrived at the Boys and Girls Club at 11:15.  The kids were just finishing lunch.  We handed out popsicles to about 75 children and workers.  The excitement and look on their faces were priceless!


Thank you Catalyst for this challenge! 



  • This opportunity gave me the chance to dialog with my three kids about race, poverty, and why we would do something like this.  They had a lot of questions after we were done.  I plan to continue to expose them to other people’s realities as they grow older.
  • When we were driving home to meet the garage door repairmen, Claire said, “Dad, that was cool!  What project are we going to do tomorrow?”


I love it!  Faith like a child….




Filed under Community, Family

Thank You Sir, May I Please Have Another – CrossFit Week #2

I am amazed that the two previous CrossFit posts are now the most read posts on my blog.  A lot of people seem interested in this exercise philosophy.  So to pad my blog hits with additional CrossFit searches, here is a list of the exercises I did over the ten days.


Monday 7/21/2008 – 400 yard sprint outside in the Matrix parking lot, jog back into the building, 21 kettle bell thrusters, 21 push-ups, jog back outside, 400 yard sprint, jog back in, 15 thrusters, 15 push ups, jog back out, 400 yard sprint, jog back in 9 thruster, and 9 push ups.  Time – 16:30  (It was only 102 degrees that day, running in the parking lot was great).


Tuesday 7/22/2008 – 30 repetitions of the following exercises:

Kettlebell Get-ups

Ring dips

Air Squat

Knees to Elbows

Kettle bell thrusters

24 in box jumps

Ball slams w/ 25 lb medicine ball

Time – 22:00


I had to do my dips on the parallel bars.  I was too weak to use the rings.  The knees to elbow exercise is done on the pull-up cage – while suspended, curl your body so that your knees touch your elbows.  My abs appreciated the exercise.  Thank you sir, may I please have another.


Wednesday 7/23/2008 – Thee rounds of 30 reps on the bench press and 400 yards on the row machine.  After warming up throwing the 10 pound medicine ball at each other, Russell asked for two volunteers.  I was feeling froggy, so I volunteered.  Russel looked at me and asked if I could bench my body weight.  I said, “maybe a couple of times.”  “Can you do it 30 times?”  “Uhhh, no”.  “Ok, start out with 135”.  I have not done bench press in a long, long time.  I got through 10 reps and racked it.  Pulled it down and finished a set of 5 with help from the spotter.  Russell told me to drop weight to 115.  I struggled through the remaining 15 reps breaking them down into sets of three.  Right into rowing.  We had to keep out pace under 150 (units of some sort).  I dropped weight again on the bench for the second set.  The next 400 yards on the rower sucked (My form is not particularly good, especially when I am completely without energy).  I completed the last set of bench with only 65 pounds – struggling to get that weight to go up. (That’s right – I’m weak!)

Time – 24:00


Friday 7/25/2008 – Tobata (or as Jason T. renamed it “A-lot-a”).  We did seven rounds or 20 seconds of work wit 10 seconds of rest.  The exercises were

Air Squat

Sit Ups


Kettle bell thrusters

24 inch box jumps


On the air squats and burpees we had to call out how many we did on the first round, then Russell had to do at least that many on the last round or we get a penalty.  I got a penalty on both, which means I had extra work to do at the end.  I had to do another set of 20 seconds of air squats, 10 seconds rest, 20 seconds burpees, 10 seconds rest, 20 seconds air squat, … I was calling Russell unrepeatable names in my head (with what little oxygenated blood was available up there).


Saturday 7/26/2008 – I ran 3.5 miles in the neighborhood.  


Monday 7/28/2008 – In 20 minutes, we had to see how many sets of five pull ups, ten pushups, and 15 air squats we could complete.  I got eleven sets.  I have weak chest and shoulders right now, so the push ups really slowed me down.


Tuesday 7/29/2008 – Four rounds of 12 front bar bell squats and 30 yards of burpee-broad jumps.  What are burpee broad jumps you ask?  Do a burpee and then do a flat footed broad jump and then do another burpee and then another broad jump, …  I was squatting with 95 pounds.  That was a good weight for me.  It was difficult to get up, but due to the number of air squats I have been doing, I felt solid during the exercise (spent, but solid).

Time – 24:00


Wednesday 7/30/2008 – Run 5K on the cross country course behind the muni golf course.  Russell introduced to us the Pose running method.  My calves hurt.

Time – 27:20



  • Russell talked to us about diet Tuesday morning.  There are a number of diet philosophies that he recommends (Zone, block, Paleolithic, …) but what I distilled from the discussion (it was after a hard workout, so my brain was only partially working) is that we need to eliminate all cheap carbs from our diet (breads, chips, sodas, basically anything that can sit on the shelf at the grocery store for a long time).  I asked if Subway was good.  He said only if you ask them to put the meat, cheese, and vegetables in your hands as they make it.  I took that as a no. 
  • I have not lost any weight yet.  My body already feels tighter and stronger, but the scale still reads the same.  Just an observation.
  • I am no longer sore from the workouts. I get fatigued, but not the advil-popping-to-function sore.  I think I have been to enough classes that my body believes that I am serious this time.  Over the past year, my body has rolled its eyes at me when I started exercising knowing that I wouldn’t last past a week or two.  I think I have slapped him around enough that he is taking me seriously now.

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Filed under exercise

What’s Acceptable? What’s Possible?

About three weeks ago someone in my Sunday School class asked a simple question that has stuck with me.  We were studying the Beatitudes and talking about how completely counter-culture Christ is calling us to live.  In the discussion, this person asked


“I wonder what behavior we accept today that twenty years from now we will look back on and shake our heads with dismay.  For example, if I was a Christian in the South in the 1960’s I probably would have accepted or, at best, turned a blind eye to racism.  Today this is absolutely intolerable to me.”


I don’t know why this has stuck with me so long.  Maybe it’s because I know there are things that I overlook and just accept as reality – life is tough, right?  I have become comfortable in some ways with the injustices that are all around.  They sound too big for me to have any effect.


I just finished reading Jim Wallis’s latest book, The Great Awakening – Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America.  He concludes the book with a beautifully written chapter titled “What’s Acceptable, What’s Possible”.  In this chapter Mr. Wallis spoke directly to the question I had been wrestling with.  He says,


            “Each new generation has a chance to alter two basic definitions of reality in our world – what is acceptable and what is possible…  When the really big offenses are finally corrected, finally changed, it is usually because something has happened to change our perception of the moral issues at stake.

            That something is this: the moral contradiction we have long lived with is no longer acceptable to us.  What we had accepted, or ignored, or denied, finally gets our attention, and we decided that we just cannot and will not live it any longer.  But until that happens, the injustice and misery continue.

            It often takes a new generation to make that decision – that something people have long tolerated just won’t be tolerated anymore. So I ask students and young people these questions:  What are you going to no longer accept in the world?  What will you refuse to tolerate, now that you will be making decisions that matter?


What an incredible call to action for young leaders!  He goes on to say


…thirty thousand more children will die globally, today, from needless, senseless, and utterly preventable poverty and disease”  Many people don’t know those facts or, if they are vaguely aware of them, have never given them a second thought

            That’s the way it usually is.  We have “easy” explanations for why poverty or some other calamity exists, for why it can’t be changed – all of which makes us feel better about ourselves – or we are just more concerned with lots of other things.  We really don’t have to care.  So we tolerate the injustice and just keep looking the other way.

            But then something changes.  Something gets our attention, something goes deeper that it has before and hooks us in places we call the heart, the soul, the spirit.  And once we’ve crossed over to really seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting the injustice, we can never look back.  It is now unacceptable to us.  What we see now offends us, offends our understanding of the sanctity and dignity of life, offends our notions of fairness and justice, offends out most basic values; it violates our idea of common good and starts to tug at our deepest places.  We cross the line of unacceptability.  We become intolerant of the injustice.

            But just changing our notion of what is unacceptable isn’t enough;  we must also change our perception of what is possible.”


I can feel the ground swell of others becoming unsatisfied with the way certain things are.  So, what is it that makes you uncomfortable?  Listen to that impulse.  Get your hands dirty and get a first hand view of the problem.  Don’t stop at becoming knowledgeable about a problem, we have to change our perception of what is possible. 


The one injustice that I will be getting more involved in over the next year is the education of impoverished children in my community.  I plan on writing more about this in the future. 


So, What injustice are become intolerant of?

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Filed under Books, Community

My 97 Seconds of Fame – The Public Transportation Interview

Public transportation has been a topic in the media lately here in Huntsville.  The main question that is being asked is, “Given the surge in gas prices, why hasn’t Huntsville seen the jump in public transportation participation that other major cities have seen?”  Great question.  Many current local political leaders and many candidates running for office (It is an election year) are discussing this question.  I wonder if any of them have tried using the Huntsville Shuttle?  


A few of the readers of this blog know that I have tried getting to and from work using public transportation on two separate occasions (Ride the Bus and Dump the Pump are previous posts that describe my past experiences).  A fraternity brother that reads my blog told a local news reporter about me and the bus.  They wanted to do a story.  I got a call Thursday from the news reporter, and she asked if they could film me riding the bus and interview me on Friday.  I agreed, and this is the news spot that was created.


Blog and Ride


Like all news reports, the whole story was not accurately portrayed.  The report makes it sound like I ride the bus all the time.  The truth is, this was only my third time in three months.  I hope that I have not disrespect those in the community that strictly rely on the bus to get around.  A more objective look at the bus system should also include interviews with regular riders – not just interested outsiders like me.  I hope my experiences have raised awareness to a problem that, if dealt with properly, could significantly improve the quality of life for many residents of this community.  I also have a message to the political leaders – Ride the bus.  Get to know the problem you are discussing.  Get to know the people that are regular riders.  Get their opinions, not just those of your removed-from-reality cohorts.


Like I said in the interview, the bus system is a good service provided by our community, but it really falls short of being an effective alternative to driving.  Huntsville can do better than this.


Other notes from the trip:

  • I got soaked walking home from the bus stop yesterday afternoon.  You gotta love the pop-up thunderstorms in the South.  I should have packed an umbrella.
  • Bennett and I had a great discussion on the ride/walk to work.  We discussed how the constraints and characteristics of this community are self-selecting to those that choose to move here.  We are a low-tax, high individual rights community (Our houses all have high fences and the majority of the people will not give up the freedom that comes with driving their own automobile).  So, when we have a big industry boom like we have now with BRAC, the ones that choose to move here will be the ones looking for low taxes and high individual freedom – not the urbanites looking to live more enmeshed in a community.  More on this topic later.
  • In the interview, I meant to say “living alternatively” not “living an alternative lifestyle”, which has its own connotation.  A lot of people picked up an that phrase and have had a good laugh about it – Including the wife of the associate pastor at church that emailed me and said she supports “Bennett and I in our alternative lifestyle living (with a J)”.  Lesson learned – when speaking to the media, keep your message simple.  It is kinda funny though. 


Filed under Community, Green Team, Huntsville Politics, Observations

Next Book

I am searching for a new book to read.  The last five books I have read have been incredible, but its time for some fiction.  My last five books include


  1. The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in a Post-Religious Right America by Jim Wallis
  2. The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, The Gospel, and Church by Shane Hipps
  3. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
  4. unChristian by Dave Kinnamen and Gabe Lyons
  5. Everything Must Change by Brian McLaren

All four of these books are very good, and I plan on writing reviews for them later, but for now, I need a break.  I am a bit saturated by the message in each.  I need a good fiction book.  Here is a list of the fiction books that I am considering.


  1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  3. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby


I have Kite Runner and A Long Way Down, but A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the most intriguing to me right now.  I love fiction books that have broken characters trying make sense out of our broken world.  Some of my favorite fiction authors include John Irving, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, and Graham Greene.  I need to find something new, something fresh, something interesting.


Any comments on my fiction list?  


Any other suggestions?


Filed under Books

Broken Body – CrossFit Week #1

The first week of CrossFit is complete, and I am very sore!  It is amazing how much my muscles have atrophied spending years working in front of a computer.  I am in pretty good aerobic shape and have found out that I am in terrible anaerobic shape.  Here is a description of the workouts this week and the aftermath.


Tuesday – First day in the gym.  The trainer, Russell, walks in and tells us to take off our shoes and get jump ropes.  (Apparently, shoes are making our feet weak according to Russell.  I was worried he was going to tell us to put on loin clothes.  Fortunately he didn’t).  There were seven total people (five guys, two girls) that showed up for this class.  Russell used to be an Army Ranger.  He is short in stature and not bulky big – but looks like a little piece of steel.  He is all business. 


We spent five minutes warming up, alternating between 30 seconds of jump rope and 30 seconds of bear crawl.  It was good to know that I have not lost my jump rope skills from elementary school (the last time I jumped rope).  Russell spent the next 10 minutes teaching us the proper technique for a squat.  Next, we were told to grab medicine balls, the guys got 20 pound balls and the girls got 16 pound balls.  He showed us how to do a drill called Wall Ball.  Standing in front of a wall with the ball at our chest, we had to squat all the way down so that our thigh was below parallel.  Then we had to explode out of the squat and throw the ball up to a target nine feet off the ground on the wall, catch the ball on the decent, and go into the next squat, explode up, throw ball, repeat…  You get the picture.  That was the first half of the exercise; the second half was Ball Slams.  In ball slams, you hold the medicine ball above your head.  Slam the ball down on the ground as you go into a squat posture.  The medicine ball bounces about 3 inches off the ground and you are supposed to catch it on the bounce and raise back up ending with the ball above your head.  Descend, slam, scoop, raise, repeat…


So here is the exercise – 25 Wall Ball repetitions, 25 Ball Slams repetitions, 20, 20, 15, 15, 10, 10, 5, 5.  The exercise was timed.  I started out strong making it through the 25 on both exercise, then I crumbled fast.  The 20s were slow.  The 15s is where the wheels about came off.  I had to break the set into mini-sets of 3 to 5.  I wasn’t able to throw the ball up to the target anymore, so Russell handed me a 16 pound (girl’s) ball to finish the set.  At one point I saw stars and almost puked (I haven’t had that feeling since high school 2-a-day soccer workouts).  I finally finished the 15s, 10s, and 5s.  Overall it took me 21 plus minutes.  I went and laid on the floor in the fetal position.  It took me about five minutes to recover and get out of my catatonic state.  My body hurt, but in a primal, sadistic way it felt good. 


The soreness in my legs, back and shoulders increased over the next two days.  I popped Ibuprofen pills continually (something I almost never do) so that I could function at work. 


Thursday – We warmed up with five minutes on the rowing machine.  This warmed my muscles up well.  Next, Russell spent 10 minutes going over the proper front bar-squat technique.  Then he took us over to the pull-up cage and taught us the technique for kipping pullups.  These pullups require a butterfly swim stroke kick type rhythm.  I got it pretty quick.


So here is the exercise named “Fran” – 21 front bar-squats, 21 kipping pullups, 15, 15, 9, 9.  I had two fifteen pound plates on the bar for a total of 75 pounds.  Of course the exercise was timed.  I finished in 17 plus minutes.  It was painful.  To give you an idea of how weak I am, here are the times for everyone else in the Thursday class.  Kevin (my freak brother) finished in 4:36 with 95 pounds, Jared Ross (first Alabama hockey player to sign a professional NHL contract just last week with the Flyers) finished in 6 plus minute, and Craig Herr (my good friend that used to play professional hockey) finished in 10 plus minutes.  I ended up tearing some of the calluses off the palm of my hands, so now I have three bloody raw spots on my hands.


I learned a few things from these two workouts – 1) I am weak and 2) I am working out with freaks.  I think CrossFit attracts these types. (Have any of you ever challenged a hockey player to anything?)


Saturday – There is no class today, but Kevin suggested a few exercises for me.  He had me do something called “Man-Makers”.  After completing, I renamed then Larry-Breakers.   I carried my 25 pounds dumbbells to one of the soccer fields in the park behind my house to do the exercise.


Here is the exercise – Kevin suggested four sets of the following – twelve Man-makers, one lap around the field.  Timed of course.  Man-makers start with a pushup holding on to the dumbbell.  At the top of the pushup, you get your feet underneath you and lift and jerk the weights to your shoulders, then press them above your head, lower them back to the ground and start the sequence over with another pushup.  They are a lot harder than they sound.  I finished in 16:36.   Shocking my body with by running (well, jogging with a desire to go faster) after anaerobic lifting was different.  


Overall, here is what I learned after three punishing workouts.  Pushing my body in ways I haven’t in the past 15 years feels really good.  You forget the pain of the exercise pretty quickly after you are done.  I was proud of the bruise on my forearm from the medicine ball, my sore muscles reminded me that I didn’t give up on the challenges, and the wounds on my hands are the rookie mistakes that everyone makes starting on something new (and ultimately the things that make you a member of the group).  (This is sounding awefully Fight Club-ish).  The benchmark times for the exercises on both days are slow, but I know I will be stronger and faster when I revisit the exercises in the future.  It feels primal, like this is really what my body was physically created to do – work.  I don’t think God created these incredibly complex vehicles to have them sit in front of TVs and computers and atrophy. 


I challenge you all to get out this week and do something physical that you know will make you a little sore the next day.  Tell me how you feel afterward.


Filed under exercise

Urban Renewal

Urban Renewal is a topic that I have become very interested in.  During the Fermi “Q” Conference last April, the lab that I chose to go on was titled “Sustainable South Bronx”.  We rode the subway from Manhattan to the South Bronx.  Comparing the sites going into the subway right next to Madison Square Garden in Manhattan to the site coming out of the subway of an elevated six lane highway in the South Bronx made an impression in me.  One area is kept clean and used as a center of entertainment and celebration, the other is a industrial mechanism with byproducts like noise, litter, and pollution.  One are is alive – buzzing with energy, the other is drab and pulls the energy out of you.


We met two gentlemen that gave us our tour and described the Sustainable South Bronx Project – they both worked for SSBX, and I wish I could remember their names.  Majora Carter was supposed to meet us and give the tour, but she was invited to carry the Olympic torch for the upcoming Games (After you watch the video below, you will see why).  Majora is the lioness of the South Bronx.  She fights for Environmental Justice in an area that usually gets the short end of the stick in urban planning.  There is a river that flows along the South Bronx, but industrialization and run-down buildings hid the river.  Most kids growing up in the Bronx never experienced the river.  Majora was inspired to make a green space at Hunts Point.  There is a riverside park there today where the kids can sit by the river, take canoe lessons (one of the guides that grew up in the Bronx said he never knew what a canoe was while growing up), or take music lessons – we saw all three of those while visiting the park.  She also started a Rooftop Greening project where they are planting rows of plants on the rooftops of buildings to reduce solar heating of the building and provide another place to experience nature.  To demonstrate Majora’s drive – she asked to have signs put up to guide the residents of the Bronx to the riverside park.  The city couldn’t come up with any money, so she went out and bought gallons of green paint and a 12 in roller paint brush.  She painted a green stripe from the center of the Bronx along the sidewalks and across crosswalks all the way to the park.  The city didn’t approve, but they didn’t do anything about it.  She seems like the type of person that has a vision and makes it happen.


the video below is of Majora describing her vision in a TED talk.  The video is 18 minutes, but it will fire you up.  She is an incredible speaker, and I hope to meet her one day.  


Huntsville has an area that in a lot of ways is getting treated like the South Bronx.  I want to be a part of bringing renewal to this area.



Filed under Community, Fermi, Green Team