Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Political Spin – It’s been in existence ever since George Washington uttered these famous words; “I cannot tell a lie, I did NOT have sex with that cherry tree.”

I certainly understand the need for political spin. We all need to put the best light on a bad situation from time to time. However, there are times where the level of spin that comes out of Washington would put one of our Oklahoma tornados to shame.

I recently picked up a copy of Senator Robert C. Byrd’s memoir; “Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields.” Let me begin by saying that I admired Byrd. He was a conservative Democrat and the longest serving member in the history of the U.S Congress. My son was the recipient of the Robert C. Byrd academic scholarship all four years he was in college, so I actually owe a slightly less emaciated pocketbook to Byrd’s legacy. In his memoir, however, he talks about the one scandal that has plagued his career for the past 40 years - the year he served as an “Exalted Cyclops” in the KKK.  This is where spin reaches Tilt-A-Whirl proportions.

Byrd says his time in the Klan was ''an extraordinarily foolish mistake.'' However, he goes on to say that he never resented blacks, Catholics or Jews; he simply failed to ''examine the full meaning and impact of the ugly prejudice behind the positive, pro-American veneer.''

So…are we to believe that he joined the KKK because it sounded like the Boy Scouts and that he didn’t really realize it was a violent, ugly, racist organization? PUUULLLLEEEEZZZZE!  I would have more respect for him if he simply stated the truth which is probably closer to “time, maturity, and experience have taught me that my early views concerning race were wrong, inexcusable, and immoral, but at that time I just thought it would be fun to go lynch me a few black men.”

I’m beginning to think, however, that Washington might be on to something. If spin is OK for a Washington politician, why shouldn’t we civilians use the same level of spin in our daily lives? With that in mind, I offer some possible ways to use “Washington Spin” to defend situations that people might find themselves in from time to time.

For the child who comes home with an “F” on his report card, I suggest:

“An ‘F’ on my report card is not an indication of failure. In fact, it is a personal statement regarding the inaccuracy of standard grading practices as they relate to the actual progress of my fellow students. Studies indicate that current grading practices discriminate against African-American and Hispanic students as well as give skewed results on the progress of both gifted and marginal students. My ‘F’ is a testament to my social consciousness and my belief that any fellow students who receive an ‘F’ should not be judged for it, or should it adversely affect their sense of self esteem.”

For the alcoholic who falls off the wagon, I suggest:

“My recent return to a life-style marked by the over-consumption of alcohol should not be interpreted as a socially irresponsible act. In fact, while doing stock market research, I discovered that my period of sobriety actually had a negative impact on the stock price of the Thunderbird Wine Company. Dips in stock prices often necessitate the restructuring of an organization which can result in the loss of jobs. The loss of jobs, in turn, has a negative impact on the entire U.S. economy. Therefore, my return to alcoholism should be seen as an act of economic responsibility.”

For the husband who gets caught fooling around, I suggest:

“Sweetheart, the recent evening I spent at the Shady Lanes Motor Inn with the new girl from the office pool should not be construed as a betrayal of our wedding vows. I was actually doing hands-on research into Freud’s Psychosexual Stages of Development as it relates to 22 year old girls so that I might better understand your development history from 20 years ago. I did this in order to be a more understanding, empathetic, and responsive husband. There’s no need to thank me, that’s just the kind of guy I am.”

Spin…if it’s good enough for a Senator, it should be good enough for all of us. 

Monday, August 26, 2013


I’ve given up worrying about whether the media has a liberal bias or a conservative bias, I’m more worried that the media is collectively smoking crack. It seems that every headline I read warns of some imminent danger that will probably kill me and my loved ones; most likely by the end of the day. 

I strongly believe that in every newspaper, radio, television, and website newsroom in America the following conversation (or something very close to it) takes place on a daily basis:

Editor: Hey Bob, read me the opening paragraph of the human interest story you’re working on.

Copywriter: Sure: “A first grader at Robert E. Lee Elementary School accidentally scuffed his chin today when he jumped off the Merry-Go-Round. His teacher, Miss Shelnick, quickly came to the rescue. She scooped the child in her arms, kissed his boo-boo, and made it all better.” 

Editor: That’s not bad Bob, but could you punch it up a bit?

Copywriter: Sure boss. How about: “A first grader at Robert E. Lee Elementary school was nearly decapitated today by grossly neglected, and extremely dangerous playground equipment. Will your child live through recess? Read our investigative report to find out.”

Editor: Not bad, but if you could imply that the teacher could possibly be a registered sex offender and that’s why she kissed him, I think we’ll have a winner.

We’ve grown mostly desensitized to this type of sensationalism. That’s probably due to the ubiquitous “all hell’s about to break loose” weather forecast:

Tropical depression ‘Tootsie’ with rain fall of 1 1/2 inches and winds of up to 8 miles per hour has formed in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 1000 miles from the nearest land mass. Unnamed experts predict that this will grow into a category 35 hurricane that could easily decimate the entire Atlantic Seaboard and eradicate all life as we know as far west as Kansas. We here at the Channel Five Weather Center promise to bring you 24/7 coverage of this breaking weather story even if we have to run archived hurricane footage dating all the way back to 1965 just to fill air time.

I understand that in a media soaked culture if a headline doesn’t pop it probably doesn’t get read which means the publisher can’t sell advertising. But as it is often said; “perception is reality” which would mean that if you can change perception you can change reality. If that is truly the case, the media should remember the immortal words of licensed comic book character Spiderman as played by Tobey Maguire: “with great power comes great responsibility” (and, apparently, Kirsten Dunst in a wet t-shirt.) Therefore, I think it’s time for some “Sensationalism Accountability.”  

I think the need for this can be illustrated by the media’s coverage of the economic crises over the last several years. During the recession I became obsessed with following the stock market. This isn’t because my portfolio is so large that I need to consult with Warren Buffett on a daily basis, but simply because I would really like to retire prior to my 95th birthday.  The Dow is now over 15,000 but even with that type of positive news, every time the DOW dips by a couple of points the headlines all read that the recovery is a hoax and that the market is about to suffer “an apocalyptic collapse of biblical proportions.”

I don’t know much about the stock market but I can tell you this, if the DOW is up 100 points today it will most likely be down at least 80 points tomorrow. This is because people are cashing out their gains and does not mean that we all need to be poised on the window ledges of our office buildings.

Yes, the recession was horrible. That is due primarily to greedy people doing incredibly greedy things, but I also have to wonder how much was actually driven by the media. I think some enterprising statistician from the Pew Research Center should conduct a study to see if there is a direct correlation between the publication of a sensationalized “doom and gloom” economic headline and layoffs. I’d bet you 50 shares of Microsoft that there is. 

I’m not saying that we need to regulate the media. I’m a firm believer in the 1st amendment but I would simply like to call on the media to demonstrate a little self restraint. If you’re like me you would like your news the way Walter Cronkite delivered it; without hyperbole and without sensationalism. When Walter said “and that’s the way it is” we all felt fairly certain that really was the way it was. 

I think Joe Friday said it best:

Just the facts ma’am. 

Monday, August 19, 2013


I've been thinking a lot about time lately. I never seem to have enough time to do everything I want to do and I bet you feel the same way. Sometimes I wish time would just stand still. It’s easy to obsess about time;

after all…

We can spend time, make time, take time, kill time, manage time, waste time, or save time. We can have a good time, a bad time, quality time, or have no time at all. We can be pressed for time, loose track of time, keep up with the times, or arrive somewhere just in the nick of time.

The world uses Greenwich Mean Time to set time. And don’t forget to observe Daylight Savings Time in the springtime. For some reason that no one has time to explain, we stop observing Daylight Savings Time in the wintertime, but that’s ok, because by that time, it’s Christmas time.

We can spend lots of time at jobs that are either part time or full time, and then get home just in time for dinner time while we watch primetime. Some primetime shows like "24" are even scripted in real time. 

Sometimes people get to the end of a long hard day and proclaim that it’s Miller Time!

We can read about someone’s life and times in the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times. But whatever newspaper we read, it doesn’t really matter because it’s probably owned by (Warner) Time.

Everyone remembers their first time.

Football has time outs and half time. But the officials that keep time obviously don't understand time or a game wouldn't last for another hour and a half after they've called two minutes of time.

Some of you might want to travel through time in a time machine, or at least bury a time capsule so that those who follow us later in time can see how we spent our time. That’s because once upon a time we lived in better times but really, there’s no time like the present time.

Prisoners serve hard time, most guys in bars are just looking for a good time, and the rest of us are simply trying to take life one day at a time.

We can even spend time singing about time. For example, there’s “Time is on my Side,” “One Moment in Time,” “Time in a Bottle,” and that all time favorite; “Get Me to the Church on Time.” As for me I'm "Living on Tulsa Time."

Musically inclined chefs like to cook with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.

In conclusion, I want to note that time marches on and we all need to spend time setting priorities before old man time catches up with us and we are forever out of time.

Well, that’s all the time I have for now so I think I'll post this on my timeline. 

See you next time.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Many of you know that I’ve been in the ministry (as a worship pastor) through the last five Popes. (I’m not Catholic but I like measuring things in papal time.) I was called to be the Music Director at Eastwood Baptist Church in Midwest City, OK. in 1976 during my freshman year in college and have continued in either full time or part time service for the past 37 years. About three months ago I decided it was time to put down my torn and dusty copy of “Music Leading for Dummies” and join the ranks of church civilians.

That’s right: Brother Mark has left the building.

The stated reason for my decision was that the demands of my secular job (the one that actually pays real money) was hindering my ability to adequately perform the duties of my ministry job (the one that cost me twice as much in taxes and gas money than I was being paid.) While that is true, several people asked if that was the only reason for my decision to vacate that position. My only answer to that is a phrase that has served me well during those 37 years in the ministry: “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”

(For the record: If “lay” person means someone who can lay in bed on Sunday morning instead of being in the sanctuary before God wakes up, I now understand why folks want to be lay people.)

I will admit that I have really missed being in the pulpit the last three months and there have been some withdrawal symptoms. I occasionally try to get our four dogs to sing a quartet, but they end up wandering off to randomly mark their territory; a problem I actually had with several choir members over the years. Also, on the Sundays that I’ve stayed home I completely lose track of what day it is and I forget that I need to try to beat the Methodists to Panera Bread.

One of the main things I miss is that I started every service by introducing the “theme” for the day with a story. My reason for doing this is that I tried my best to preach the entirety of our pastor’s sermon in three minutes. I did this because:

1. When I was successful, it annoyed him, and that made me happy.
2. To prove that all sermons can be preached in three minutes or less and the rest is just fluff.

The real question now is whether or not I’m going to make a good church member. To be honest, I don’t really have a good answer to that question yet. Whether or not I end up being in a pew every Sunday or being someone who goes to brunch at Piccadilly’s at 10:00 a.m. and then goes home to watch PGA golf remains to be seen, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

There are some things about being a civilian I am looking forward too. For example, I can actually say what I think now. If you think that church staff people can actually say what they think, you are probably riding the short buss to Sunday school. To be somewhat free of the bonds of church politics excites me, and makes my pastor very, very nervous. I’m also looking forward to randomly sitting in pews that church members have had staked out for decades just to watch their heads explode because they can’t stand change.

Yes, Brother Mark has left the building, and I miss him...

...and I don’t.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I was tickling the ivories in the back of the smoky lounge; riffing on Coltrane. My cigarette glowed in the darkness like a red-eyed Cyclops and finally burned itself out, leaving an ashen tail as it sat precariously on the edge of my single malt scotch.

I made eye contact with her as she sat at the bar. She stood and walked toward me, her image splitting into a thousand fragments as it was reflected in the chrome and the glass. Her perfume cut through the heavy smell of desperation that hung in the air and she smiled as she slid onto the bench next to me.

She leaned her head back, exposing a perfect neck as she shook out her long red hair. “Do you know any Brubeck?” she asked, in a voice that any 900 number service would kill for. I segued effortlessly into “The Duke” without saying a word.

She closed her eyes and swayed gently as I picked up the theme to “In Your Own Sweet Way.”  “I like your style” she said as she wrapped her hotel room key in a wrinkled five and tossed it into my tip jar.

Luckily, I was almost finished with my set.

Ok..Ok.. what really happened is that I was sitting at the piano in my church auditorium before choir practice playing the theme from the Peanuts cartoons when an 80 year old woman walked in and asked if I knew “Harbor Lights.”

She did slip me her hotel room key though…

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I remember the fall of 1980 being warm and dusty in southern Oklahoma. The leaves that were supposed to be at the peak of their color during the last week in October had instead turned brown from lack of water and littered the ground like millions of dead locust.

In retrospect, I should have seen the withering foliage as a metaphorical harbinger of things to come, but I was too preoccupied to notice. I was 22 and had graduated from college that spring with a degree in Church Music. A month later I was called as the “Minister of Music and Youth” at the largest church in a very tiny town.

I should have guessed that something was up at this church when the pastor refused to call me by my name and instead spent my entire tenure there referring to me as “college boy.” I discovered later that he had dropped out of school in Jr. High. I certainly didn’t care, but it was clear that he did. Proud of my newly acquired moniker, I jumped into my responsibilities like the zealot that I was.

The rule among protestant churches in the south at the time was that Youth Ministers were to host an event after every home high school football game and that event was to be called a “Fifth Quarter.” I did not make up this rule, but I followed it religiously (har). For homecoming week I decided to combine the Fifth Quarter with an equally revered institution called a “Lock-In." For the uninitiated, a lock-in is an all night party in which the teenagers are locked inside the church building in much the same way the clinically insane are locked inside an asylum.

I was determined that my first lock-in would be the greatest lock-in in all of recorded Youth Minister history and I began planning accordingly. I rented the high school cafeteria to hold the event in. I hired a Christian Rock-Band and a Christian Magician (In case you’re wondering, a Christian magician still pulls rabbits out of a hat, but the rabbits have been baptized.) I had arranged for movies and tons of food and I put out the word and hoped kids would show up, and show up they did.

Perhaps it’s only because there was nothing else going on in this one stoplight town but pretty much the entire high school showed up. We had 176 teenagers spend the night in the high school cafeteria. That may not sound like a large number for many churches but that was significantly more than the average Sunday morning attendance at the church.

The town had a large African-American population. I had been told when I was hired that there was some racial tension but I had not seen any real indication of it. The mix that night was about 50/50 between black and white students. The event ended the next morning with me thinking I was a cross between Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. I had not only planned and hosted the highest attended event in our churches history, but I had single handedly healed any racial divide in our community.

The kids left at 7:00 a.m. and after cleaning up, I stumbled home and into bed about 9:30 a.m. At 10:00 a.m. I was awakened by a phone call from the chairman of the youth committee. He said the committee had called an emergency meeting and that I was to be there at 11:00 a.m. I went to the meeting thinking that they were going to give me a medal for being the greatest Youth Minister in the history of the congregation, but that’s not exactly what happened.

I walked into the living room of the chairman’s house and sat down in the only vacant chair in a pre-arranged circle. After an awkward silence the chairman finally spoke: “We’ve asked you here because we’ve decided that we can’t allow you to have any more activities like the one you had last night.” I was dumbfounded. “Why?” I asked. “We just don’t think it’s the direction our youth ministry needs to be heading.” “Why?” I asked. “Well, it’s just not what we think is in the best interest of our church.” “Why? I asked. (Even at 22, I knew when I was listening to bull shit and I thought if I asked the same question enough times I might finally get a real answer.) Finally a woman in the group, who also happened to be the church secretary, spoke up: “We don’t want them black kids thinking they can come to our church.” Finally, the truth had been spoken. (In reality, her English was probably better than that but I like to attribute bad grammar to her because it helps me continue to vilify her in my memory.)

My soul died a little that day, and that was probably the beginning of my bizarre love/hate relationship with the ministry. In the 31 years since then I’ve learned that there are assholes in all walks of life and in all professions but in that moment I was convinced that God had called me to the only church in the world that had mean people in it.

I know literally hundreds of people in the ministry and every single one of them have a similar story. That’s because churches are made up of imperfect people of which I am the chief among them.

This event in my life has been on my mind lately because I was sitting in the international service that my church launched recently looking at the faces around me. There were 11 countries represented and I’m pretty sure I heard at least that many languages being spoken in the hallways after the service.

During the service I kept thinking back 31 years to the moment in that living room when I heard the words “we don’t want them thinking they can come to our church.” Well, now “they” ARE my church.

And in that moment I’m pretty sure the part of my soul that died 31 years ago was restored.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


In the fall of 2001, my son Jordan was preparing to attend Baylor University. I drove him down to Waco and dropped him off and I remember looking into my rear view mirror and seeing him walk away with suitcases in hand. As cheesy as it may sound, that image is like a Norman Rockwell painting that will be burned into my brain forever.

I told him at the time that I had some predictions for him as he began his college career. One of those predictions was that he would own Baylor University by the time he graduated. I can report that four years later his name was on the deed.

He graduated with a 4.0 and was named the outstanding graduating senior in the University. He jumped right into his graduate studies in Neuroscience and moments ago he called to let me know that he had just finished successfully defending his doctoral dissertation.

Allow me to introduce: Jordan Paul LaBouff, Ph.D

This fall he begins a teaching position with the honors college at the University of Maine. In a couple of weeks I'm going to drive a U-Haul from Waco, TX. to Bangor, ME. containing all of the earthly possessions that he and his lovely wife have accumulated over the years. This will be the greatest road trip in the history of all road trips. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby have nothing on us.

I'm insanely proud of my son's academic achievements, but there are other things about my son for which I'm even prouder:

His favorite movie is the Princess Bride (which is why he never falls victim to classic blunders; the most famous of which is never get involved in a land war in Asia.) He can sing all of the lyrics to Billy Joel's "We didn't start the fire" and the Barenaked Ladies' "One week" without taking a breath. He's an incredible chef and makes a peanut butter ice cream that could cause nations to topple. He is a consummate beer geek. Little old ladies like to pinch him on the cheek.

When he was 13 he acted like he was 28. Now that he's 28 he occasionally allows himself to act like he's 13 and I really like that about him.

He always remembers my birthday and father's day.

He has a rapier wit and the ability to slay mere mortals with a level of sarcasm so keen and so incredibly subtle that his opponents do not even realize they have been decapitated until they are walking away and their heads fall off. But he only does this to really obnoxious people who deserve it because he's a much nicer person than I am.

He runs marathons for charity. He makes chainmaille jewelry. He's a widely published researcher. He tends bar part time. He tends to stay fairly busy.

Jordan has become of a man of unparalleled integrity. He's a good husband and he's a good friend. He occasionally makes mistakes like the rest of us, but he is the type of man who always takes responsibility for his actions and learns from his mistakes. He does nothing halfway and is passionate about all that he does. He is respected by his peers, lauded by his teachers, and admired by his students.

He has friends and family who would die for him.

I'm proud of the Ph.D, but these are the reasons I'm really proud of my son.

Please take a moment and leave a note for Jordan in the comments section below, congratulating him on his incredible accomplishment.