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Never mention free food to a journalist. Whenever a kind soul brings food into the newsroom, my co-workers spring to life, pop out of their cubicles and dash like lemmings to the free offerings, with little regard for their  dignity. I’m different, in that I don’t sit in a cubicle. I usually try to not be the first to race for the food. I said I try. I do, though, show restraint, limiting myself to only one piece of chocolate. (One piece of each variety, to be clear).

Speaking of free food, Lakepointe Church in Macomb Township on Sunday, March 18, is celebrating its second year. After the 10:30 a.m. service, there will be a free luncheon for all guests. It will mostly be a great time to get to know the fine people at Lakepointe. If you are looking for a church to check out, I strongly recommend Lakepointe. I’ve talked with Pastor Scott Blanchard a couple times, and I have lots of respect for him, as well as Jared Sabo, who leads youth ministries at Lakepointe.

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You’re most likely way ahead of me in hearing about the KONY 2012 video that is very viral.

The video already has 37 million hits and counting. According to this story by The Associated Press:

Despite an International Criminal Court arrest warrant and the deployment last fall of 100 U.S. Special Forces to four Central African countries to help advise in the fight against Kony, few Americans know who he is.

Myself, I find it more than coincidental that Joseph Kony is suddenly getting all this deservedly bad press. A day ago, my daughter asked me if I knew anything about this Kony guy. It rang a bell, yes, but I’ll admit I couldn’t quite place it. Then after 2o seconds of watching the video, it was one of those, “Oh, yeah, of course!” moments. Two days before that, I was reading “The Hole in Our Gospel,” a book on which our church based a series that has just concluded. (Well, sorta. It’s more like just the beginning.)

In the book, author Richard Stearns makes a reference to Joseph Kony and his KLA. Not anything in depth, but enough to spell out clearly what a monster Kony is. I just find it a little weird that I was reading about this guy two days prior in a book that was written two years ago.

What’s more, it  was about a month ago that I was visiting my Aunt Nell, whose daughter’s family has been on the mission field in Kenya, Uganda and nearby countries for most of their lives. Aunt Nell was telling me about how her grandson, who repairs trucks, had to be cautious about venturing into certain areas because that was the domain of the KLA, which is led by this monster Joseph Kony, who she said could barely be called a human. Like I said, just too strange to be coincidence.

The KONY 2012 campaign is a testament to the amazing power of technology and and increasingly interconnected world. I’d be ecstatic if a viral campaign like this could topple this evil regime. It’s frustrating to know that Kony and people like him have been perpetrating these horrors for years now. Nonetheless, the KONY 2012 effort could become a template for significant change in the world.

This weekend marks both the end and the beginning of a special four-week series at Kensington churches. The series is based on the book, “The Hole in Our Gospel,” written by Richard Stearns, president of World Vision U.S.  Kensington has intertwined the messages of the book with its outreaches already in place. The challenge for Week 3 was, “Think about water everyday.” You’d think that we’d think about water every day, but you must admit we take it for granted. There are probably a lot of us today who are thinking about how much we depend on power. I thought about water this morning because our dishwasher has died, and now I must wash the dishes the Old Fashioned Way, which, apparently, is a skill my children will never be able to grasp. I also heard a story this week about how in these United States, everyone west of the Mississippi will soon be coping, if they aren’t already, with a dwindling supply of fresh water. We are surrounded by the world’s most precious supply of fresh water. For this reason, I’m glad that the water monitoring system in southeast Michigan will continue to guard us. I used to complain about my ever-increasing water bills. They’ve gone from $30 a month when we first got here, to close to $130 a month now. I may still complain, but in reality, I’m so glad I have the option to pay for fresh water. When you get a few minutes, look at this video, and you will better understand how good we’ve got it.

At the end of each message, we were enticed to purchase an empty gallon jug for $5. The jug did not contain gas or milk, just air. But what a bargain! The picture at the top of this post is of the label attached to each jug. Many chose to give well above the five bucks, and many fetched more change from others by piquing curiosity about the empty gallons. As of Friday night, the people at Kensington had raised $125,000 — and counting! That money will be used to drill water wells for people in Pokot, Kenya. The author of “The Hole in Our Gospel” challenges us to think twice about what we believe is true. One of those “truths” is, there is nothing we can do to help the poverty of Third World countries. Give that some thought today and take a deeper look, because that “truth” may be a big lie.

I found the top two comments to this video very enlightening.

Here’s the first:

I always worry when I donate to charities like this. If you do this, give these people a well, is it going to lead to an increase in their population? The reason there is trouble is that there are too many people living in an area which can’t support them. So what then? We have two villages instead of one, and again we have trouble. So we give them another well? How about they control their population instead. I have seen what the population growth in Africa is like.

Followed by:

As a teen I cant do much but me and my friend are trying to find ways to raise money to donate. Keep up the good work!

Now it’s easy to me to say what a jerk that first person is, and say bravo to the teen with the big heart. But do I really have more hope than the first guy? I’d like to think so, but I’ll admit I’ve often felt there is nothing that can be done. I wonder how many times teens get their spirits crushed by the things we say?

As I said earlier, the series may be wrapping up this weekend, but the adventure may just be starting. The challenge for Week 4 is, “Be Part of the Solution.”

Here’s a confession. I never had Ramen noodles in college. Mac & cheese, definitely. By the truckloads. It was later I discovered the beauty of a seemingly harmless package of dried noodles with a mystical silver pouch stuffed somewhere inside. According to this article, Americans consume 4 billion packages of Ramen noodles a year! That stat will be skewered a bit upward on Wednesday. Kensington churches have challenged attendees to join the Hole in Our Gospel challenge. The second week of the challenge is A Hole in Our Menu. Each day has its own focus. Here is Wednesday’s:

Eat: Ramen Noodles 
Focus: Local Refugees
Southeast Michigan has a huge population of refugees from the Middle East. Many of these immigrants have suffered grave injustices and lived in places where they had little or no control over their lives. Many have lost family, friends and homes. They usually arrive with almost no money, possessions or understanding of American culture. They may not know English, and most lack access to a car – critical to getting employment. Thousands of Iraqi refugees who fled the war have gravitated to the Detroit area, home to America’s largest Arab population as well as a sizable Iraqi Christian (or Chaldean) community. Kensington is partnering with local schools and agencies to reach out in love and support for our new neighbors.

The idea is to try living on less than $2 a day, like 2.6 billion people do in this world every day. Take what you normally spend on food and give it to someone else. If you’re already in, I’m sure thank-yous are in order. If not, maybe give it a try.

Besides, Ramen noodles are the main ingredient to the most diverse dishes on the planet.

For guys, the words “marriage conference” can seem pretty scary. “Oh, boy! What did I do now?” is often our defensive response. Last weekend, my wife and I attended the “Love and Respect” conference at Christ the King church in Oxford. “Love and Respect” is the well-recognized mission of Emerson and Sarah Eggerichs. Along with many other couples, future couples and others wanting to learn, we viewed the DVDs of the seminars over two days. I was impressed and glad I attended. You see, “Love and Respect” explains to women — yes, better than we probably ever could — what makes guys tick, why we do the things we do. There is no pressure, guilt or anything in this series to make you uncomfortable. Lest you think this is slanted toward guys, have no fear. We also got a great understanding of how women are wired. You will learn things you do not know, I guarantee it. I highly recommend that you learn more, maybe read the book, find the series or consider hosting a conference at your church. I would also challenge non-Christian couples wanting a better marriage to give “Love and Respect” a chance. In fact, there is a conference coming up in Fowlerville on Feb. 24-25. Finally, thanks to the staff at Christ the King Church for being so hospitable, even during the worst snowstorm of the year.

The past few days have been filled with grief. A community and school district have suffered the loss of a young boy, Kyle Halcomb. Many others were shocked by the death of recently retired L’Anse Creuse High School-North Principal Dave Jackson. On the global stage, diva Whitney Houston died at the early age of 48.

Kyle was on his way to school, just like any other morning, when the van filled with children driven by his mother apparently went through a red light and was rammed by another vehicle.Kyle died a few days later. I can’t begin to fathom the nightmare this family is going through. One split second changes everything. With all the talk of risks we face, none is greater than driving down the highways every day. My girls are driving or learning to drive, and as long as they are behind the wheel or riding in cars with their peers, I doubt I can ever relax. Kyle Halcomb “played football and enjoyed all sports, fishing, was an artist, the ‘big little brother,’ and always had a smile on his face,” his obituary reads. Such a sad story.

So many students and faculty have expressed their shock at the loss of Mr. Jackson. Not just in L’Anse Creuse, but in the many other locations where he was an educator or coach. My daughter said he was at every cross country meet, rain or shine, no matter how far the drive. She said he would say hello to kids and call them by their names. Trust me, in these big schools we have around here, it’s not uncommon that kids don’t even know who their principals are. Not so in Mr. Jackson’s case. Teachers said Mr. Jackson’s influence and integrity are reflected in L’Anse Creuse North. One said he was looking forward to retirement so he could spend more time with his grandchildren. That alone is all I need to know about Mr. Jackson.

Even though they never shared the worldwide fame of Whitney Houston, the losses of Kyle and Mr. Jackson affect me, sadden me.

On the other end of the spectrum, people who never knew Whitney Houston will place teddy bears and flowers at memorials. The saddest part about Whitney Houston is she was not protected by the people who supposedly loved her. Someone with honor should have removed her from the shallow, drug-filled culture in which she lived. Bobby Brown failed as a husband in that aspect. Maybe he was just too selfish. As we watched the Grammys on Sunday night, we dreamed about being a superstar, having all the wealth and fame you could ever want, and having your every whim catered to.

Then I remembered, that’s exactly what Whitney Houston had.

In the gold old days — about 1999 — developers were rushing to put up new buildings for manufacturers and small businesses, farmland north of 23 Mile Road almost overnight was being converted into subdivisions, empty houses were selling at a premium price. Early in my journalism career, I was reminded by one of the movers and shakers in Alpena — whose name I left out of a story — that names make news. Another commandment was never run a photo that doesn’t have a person in it. Well, once again, I’m wrong. Seems the top newsmakers lately are empty buildings. They get even more exciting when put into a Top Five list.

1. Overdrawn

The Bank

This bank is an architectural wonder that was built for $300,000 in 1961 and was initially the Mount Clemens Federal Savings and Loan. But the building has struggled to keep tenants. A couple years ago, an entrepreneur decided it would be cool as an upscale martini bar. The county decided it would be a good idea to help foster this venture. But there aren’t as many upscale people as believed. We’re just common folk here, I guess. By the time The Bank opened, the hoity-toity crowd had fled Michigan. The Bank has been empty for nearly a year. The county is stuck with a building that was valued at $875,000 a few years ago, but at best would fetch $300,000, according to Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel. The big boss wants to know what should be done with the building, and the option of razing it has been raised.

Here are some ideas shared on the Macomb Daily Facebook page:

Margaret Ferguson This would make a great blown glass studio and showroom. They should offer this building to the people that currently have a studio in the old gas station. The gas station is an eye sore and should be demolished rather than the historical Bank.”

John Wesley How about a day-care center for kids?”

Steven Thomas Let that ugly thing fly away. You know it wants to.”

Karen Bilicki Mt. Clemens can do without another bar. Old fashion burgers and ice cream is its style”

Bill Shadowens Brew Pub / Brewery!”

Exec Hackel said The Bank has become an “attractive nuisance” for vagrants and the homeless who use it as a place to sleep.

Maybe we could turn it into an upscale homeless shelter?

2. No joke

Perhaps Macomb County was just not in the mood to laugh … or bowl … or dance. The Fountainview Lanes complex in Clinton Township is yet another nightclub that turned from a hotspot into a not-so-hotspot. But hope springs eternal. Michael Cooley is ready to re-invent the facility as a dance club, except this time for teens. He’s already been approved by the Clinton Township planning commission, after agreeing to meet the following conditions:

  • No loitering outside of the building;
  • No speakers on the exterior;
  • Adequate security will be on site when the club is open;
  • A security plan will be developed and approved by the police department to address any issues inside or outside of the building;
  • And no Celine Dion songs, under penalty of death.

Okay, so that last condition was just my suggestion. In a nutshell, Cooley wants this to be a fun place for teens to have some wholesome fun. But there is one Clinton Township trustee who doesn’t think that’s possible:

“The history of these teen nightclubs shows they tend to attract the wrong element,” Treasurer Bill Sowerby said. “Teens today are already challenged by drugs and other problems that may be infiltrated in schools and neighborhoods. I don’t think this will add value to our community, but I will listen to their presentation.”

Well, at least he’s willing to listen. I admire Mr. Cooley for wanting to do something for kids. I’ve also had visions of opening up a fun place for teens to hang out. But part of me is skeptical. I’ve worked at a business targeted toward youngsters. They don’t always have a lot of income at their disposal. A club this size has lots of overhead and a sizable chunk of money must be invested. Without liquor sales, I’m not sure what kind of cash it will bring in. Kids can only chug so many Mountain Dews in a night. However, Mr. Cooley has business savvy that I lack, and I wish him the best.

3. School’s out forever

Charles F. Kettering High School/photo from Flickriver: JVLIS

Macomb County is home to some of the largest school buildings in the state. Anchor Bay High School and Dakota are so big, the walk between classes alone should solve the obesity crisis among our teens. Big new schools aren’t always the answer, reports Corey Williams of The Associated Press:

More than a dozen Detroit Public Schools buildings — including several high schools — will close and many students reassigned before the start of fall classes as the district continues to slash costs and consolidate programs to improve learning.

The closures are the latest of dozens for a district losing thousands of students each year.

All of the closures and consolidations are expected to save the district about $9.1 million annually in operating costs.

City, Kettering, Finney, Southwestern, Crocket and Mumford high schools are among the buildings that will close.

Fortunately, not all news is bad:

In addition to the closures announced Wednesday by state-appointed emergency manager Roy Roberts, four newly constructed schools will be opened.

When I moved my family to Decatur, Ill., in 1996, the school my eldest daughter attended was built around 1898. When we moved to Macomb County, my kids attended two elementary schools that were brand new. But it’s not sleek buildings that attract families to districts. It’s the quality of education. Most families who take their kids out of Detroit schools want something better for their kids. Many others say they are just concerned about their kids’ safety. There’s plenty of blame to go around for what ails Detroit schools: parents, teachers, corruption, administrators, students. A lot of tough choices have been made and are to come. But while we’re busy pointing fingers, at least let the kids have a chance for a good education.

4. Underwater without a paddle

cleveland homes

Here's what happens to empty homes in Cleveland

According to this story, 2011 will mark a record for home foreclosures. In 2010 in America, 3.8 million homes went into foreclosure. And to think we were all led to believe our home was the best investment we would ever make. Underwater has become a household term, for those who still have houses. A trusted source tells me your perspective will change if you find yourself underwater. I am still stunned when I see how much value my home has now, compared with the price I paid, and compared with its peak value not so many years ago. I’m fortunate that most every house in my sub is now occupied, even though that wasn’t always the case.

Macomb County’s economic guru Jim Jacobs predicts the southeast Michigan economy is rebounding and will finish the year strong. He does caution that one of the “wild cards” will be the number of foreclosed and “underwater” home mortgages. This is a crisis that has put some houses on the dollar menu, and made those Washington Township mansions affordable for anyone lucky enough to be in house-hunting mode. What struck me the most was something I noticed when I did my taxes this year. The silver lining in a home that is valued at far less than when purchased is the owner pays less in taxes. But when I look at how much less I’m paying to my township and multiply that by every other home, it’s no wonder municipalities can’t balance their budgets.

5. Shameful

All I can say is, help catch these guys. A Sikh gurdwara under construction in Sterling Heights was spray painted by vandals sometime between Sunday night and Monday morning. If you have any information, call police (586) 466-2801 or Crime Stoppers (800) 773-2587. “We are absolutely sick at what some bad people did to our temple,” said Gurnam Dhamrat, secretary of the management committee of the Sikh Society of Michigan congregation. “You just shake your head in amazement because we are peace-loving people who love America, our home.”

“Vandalism of property should never be tolerated by anyone especially when thoughtless people vandalize a church, temple or synagogue,” Church member Inder Singh said..

Chrysler’s Super Bowl ad featuring Clint Eastwood was considered by many to be the best commercial of the big game. It certainly struck a chord in southeast Michigan. It’s a sequel to the wildly praised Imported from Detroit spot from last year featuring Macomb County native Eminem. As sequels go, at least this one was better than Grease 2.

Yes, it’s Halftime in America. That sounds like Obama’s campaign theme. This commercial was as much a campaign ad for Obama as an attempt to sell a Ram. The president has not shied away from noting his support for the auto bailouts, on which Chrysler mounted its comeback. There have been other Super Bowl ads that pull on the heartstrings. I can remember the Budweiser ads where soldiers returning from the war were greeted with building applause while walking through airports. It made us want to thank a soldier and drink a beer at the same time. Now, our rallying cry, the thread that unites us, is a Dodge Dart. I’m on board, especially if Blondie says I should be.

Clint Eastwood

"Be nice to each other and get along ... or else!"

I thought the Chrysler ad was a bit on the dreary side, but that seemed to be the theme this year for the Super Bowl. I felt more like I was watching Blade Runner. I should have seen it coming when the opening Bud Light commercial took on a serious tone. I was hoping a dog would jump in at the end and ask for sausages. That was followed by an extravagant vampire ad to sell headlights. Chevrolet actually intentionally made a post-apocalyptic ad, imploring viewers to buy a Chevy pickup and not a Ford if they want to make it through the Mayan mayhem, and received no small share of criticism for doing so.

But most of the controversy around here was saved for the “Made in China” campaign. Pete Hoekstra, challenging Debbie Stabenow for a Michigan Senate seat, arrived on the national stage and immediately stoked claims of being racially insensitive.

So, I guess the lesson is, Imported from Detroit is a slogan that works, Made in China doesn’t work? Next time, Mr. Hoekstra might want to hire Chrysler’s marketing department to run his campaign.

Maybe New England coach Bill Belichick should have shown the Chrysler ad in lieu of his halftime speech.

With all the hype surrounding Super Bowl Sunday, why let the opportunity slip?

Kensington church each year errs on the side of going overboard for Super Sunday services.Last year at Clinton Township, the service was played out in four quarters, with Kid Rock (wink) performing at halftime. Rory even penalized pastor Chris for using words from a previous sermon.

This year, the topic is (natch) Tim Tebow! Yes, why we love/hate Tim Tebow.

If you only attend church on holidays, maybe you’ll want to add this holiday to your schedule. Kensington never fails to deliver an entertaining Super Sunday service. And, I may add, never fails to drive home a message.

Last time I heard pastor Dave Wilson speak at Troy, the Lions chaplain had a few things to say about Tebowmania.

Being that nobody else has weighed in about Tebow, let me be the first. Well, there’s a chance I won’t be the first.

Unfortunately, I understand the hate for Tebow. Why isn’t there hatred for Jason Terry of the Dallas Mavericks? To me, he is far more outspoken about his beliefs, but I’ve never met at Jason Terry hater.

On the flip side, I think Denver is obligated to take an honest assessment of its future. If the Broncos get a quarterback the caliber of Andrew Luck, or  that Matt Flynn guy in Green Bay, how could they not go after them? Also, what if you had a receiver the likes of Calvin Johnson? Would you be happy with Tebow’s eight completions a game? I can tell you most NFL players would have a hard time playing in Tebow’s system.

Tebow, to me, proved all he ever needed to prove by getting the lowly Broncos into the playoffs and beating Pittsburgh. It may be the high point of his career. Hopefully not, but Tebow is mature enough to handle what comes his way. Tebow is an inspiration, and one sorely needed in our Jersey Shore society.

MCC President Jim Jacobs

MCC President Jim Jacobs

Economist and Macomb Community College President Jim Jacobs delivered his 28th annual economic forecast for Macomb County on Thursday.
His bottom line: “There are, I think, enormous reasons for optimism.”
Could it be? People in southeast Michigan may actually find jobs this year?
Nobody, of course, is screaming happy days are here again. And all good economic news comes with an asterisk. But after living under the dark cloud of a “jobless recovery” for a few years (exactly when did all this begin?) we’ll welcome any silver lining.

Even if you did just land in Macomb County from Mars, you’d likely realize that our financial well-being is connected to the health of the auto industry. It’s this time of the year that we celebrate our four-wheeled friends and put them, literally, on pedestals.

Gawkers delay at the auto show for a Camaro.

Gawkers delay at the auto show for a Camaro.

Jacobs stresses that the rebound of the auto industry is significant, but only part of the picture. Other reasons for the county’s renewal range from Nautical Miles, to defense corridors, to hospital complexes.

Many, many churches have responded to the joblessness crisis, setting up support groups, networking, training, workshops and more to help the unemployed. People in charge of these groups tell me that fewer and fewer people are attending the sessions, and they attribute it to job seekers getting back into the workforce.

Three Rochester-area Catholic parishes — St. Andrew, St. Irenaeus and St. Mary’s of the Hills — used to each meet regularly. Now, attendance has waned so much, the groups will hold combined meetings, and there will only be one meeting a month.

This is from an email group members received:

“Thank you for all of the amazing career support you have provided me over  the past couple of years. Your events have helped me to reinvent myself,  discover my worth, and strengthen my sense of security as I transitioned my career,” stated Bonnie T., a regular attendee.

It can be scary being tossed out of the working world. (duh) How’s this for a daunting job description?

Responsibilities:

    • Work within a team environment to create new and maintain existing applications
    • Interact with solution creation team to refine business and user requirements
    • Participate in all phases of development cycle including: detailed design, coding, unit test, debugging, and deployment
    • Assist in physical and logical database design
    • Support quality assurance testing and production installations
    • Provide advice to Technical Architects on proposals, estimates and the creation of detailed specifications required for technical design
    • Ensure that standards and guidelines including coding standards and best practices are followed and maintained
    • Stay current with and learn new technologies as necessary

Skill and Experience Requirements:

    • 5+ years of applications development/software development or relative IT experience
    • 5+ years of experience with ASP.NET, C#, JavaScript, AJAX, CSS, and Web Services
    • Experience developing large-scale, distributed, and enterprise-wide applications
    • Broad experience with web technologies, servers, platforms and browsers
    • Strong problem solving skills and creativity
    • Excellent written and oral communication skills
    • Must be able to work under routinely tight deadlines
    • Must be able to pick up new technologies quickly
    • Degree in Computer Science / Engineering preferred
    • U.S. or a Canadian citizen is required for biweekly meetings

At least I’ve got that last criteria met! I must have slept through those other courses at college.

How strong is this jobs recovery? How long will it last? What will happen to those left behind without any skills? Like I said earlier, nobody is dancing in the streets. Let us just be thankful for the good news we have.