I welcomed the New Year with a party at my place hosted by Stephanie Spitzer and me and including around sixty of my most peripheral friends. There was an initial invite of around 15 people. But each person had a group of friends who had no plans so we welcomed them with open arms. Let's just say it was, hands down, the party of the millennium. Well, the parts I remember anyway. I "fell asleep" around 11:00 p.m., woke up on my couch to find the place had been turned into a dance party, Usher blaring through the speakers, and everyone dancing, um, how do I describe, close together. I later found myself taking a nap in the yard. It's one of those things that was wrong and irresponsible to do and didn't help me at all, but I don't regret it one bit. Does that make sense? I should have done it in high school. But I didn't, needed to get it out of my system, and did. I've had people all year come up to me in town and say "Man, your party was THE BEST!" At which point I think to myself, "Who are you?" I've already made the decision to go out of the New Years Party business on a high note and not have one this year.
In terms of excitement, everything this year was pretty much downhill from there, with a few exceptions. In mid-January I drove myself to the emergency room in the middle of the night because I couldn't piss. It was one of the most painful things ever, but has caused me to drink much more water and actually helped spur me on to get a bit healthier. More on that later.
In January the rumblings and rumors started floating around the net that "Ed," my favorite show of the previous four years and one of the things God used (I seriously believe that) to get me through a couple of difficult years after moving to Waco, would be cancelled. It's cancellation was finally confirmed and in February me and my closest friends watched the final episode. If you were there you probably knew how moved I was and sad to see it go. But it was also an extremely joyful time because I saw that the quirky little community of Stuckeyville that I had loved and romanticized for four years had been created, in it's own distinct way, around me.
The spring saw what I believe to be the final heyday, at least for the time being, of Coffee and Culture, the community group I've led in various forms for a couple of years at church. It would be renamed in the Fall and moved to a different place, a move that I consider our jump the shark moment. Don't get me wrong, there were some great discussions this fall, but most of the energy had left. If it weren't for the election I feel it would have been a dead fish. In the spring, however, there was still that perfect mix of extremely heated discussion coupled with a genuine friendship that had developed among those in the group. I personally think the departure of Gabe, who was the explosive powder, and Wesley, who reminded us who we were, helped put the nail in the coffin. It was a wonderful two years, but time to move on.
Sometime around late February and early March I decided it was time to lose a little weight and get in shape, so I got my rear and gear and started making use of the $35 a month that had been being taken out of my bank account monthy for a year to pay for my gym membership. I was motivated by several things-- seeing pictures of myself from Jason and Christy's wedding and knowing Blake's wedding was coming up (how girl of me,) and having been sick more in the previous couple of months than in the previous ten years. But mostly, my 30th birthday loomed large in September and I though six months would be a good amount of time. All said I lost sixty pounds in 2004, although about 8 of those have found their way back over the holidays. I feel great and am looking at running a 1/2 marathon in February and possibly a full one in October of next year.
I spent a large part of the first few months of the year proofreading and offering suggestions for Kyle's book. It was great fun to be able to see the process of writing a book. Hopefully it'll be helpful to me in the coming year. :)
Speaking of Kyle, I also had many wonderful times this year hanging out with the Lake family and babysitting the kids. The boys turned two in July and Avery turned four in August. There was an extremely fun time had by all at their Kidsville Birthday Party. I fell deeper and deeper in love with those kids every single week.
The summer, as usual around here, was quite uneventful. Having been in my job as Department Manager at Barnes and Noble for a year, I finally began to settle into a routine. We had normal summer activities at church, Sno-Cones on Mondays, midweek Bible study and bowling on Wednesdays. Other than that I worked 8 hour days, worked out a little, and read. After "Ed" finished in February I kind of went on a television sabbatial. Call it grief or call it not having anything good to watch.
I preached at UBC more in 2004 than ever. Some were good some were bombs. Around Easter I preached about Judas, in June I did a God in the Music sermon on Mindy Smith's "Come to Jesus," and in October I preached on Acts 17. There were a few more, but I can't rightly remember what they were about. That was great but what was even better was the opportunity I had to write a couple of things for our alternative services. I was extremely pleased with how those two items turned out.
If I had to single out a highlight of my 2003 it would be Jason and Chisty's wedding. 2004's highlight would be Blake and Karla's wedding in Seattle. It was my first trip to the Northwest. I was awed by the city and landscape. But none of that held a candle to being together with some of the greatest people in the world.
The election dominated the news and my mind and the minds of my friends during the fall. This election, more than any I can remember, brought out the fighter in me. It was difficult having friends who saw things so differently from me. Disagreeing on things such as music and entertainment and food and trivial things is one thing. But it's a totally different thing to disagree with your friends on the decisions each other makes in deciding who will be the leader of the free world. In the end, my candidate won. But in the end there were friendships that needed mending. I hope the doomsday prophets on both side of the political aisle will calm down for at leas a couple of years and stop seeing the other side as the enemy. I have little assurance this will happen, but I can hope.
Blogs made quite a splash this year. In the spring of '02 a friend in a community group mentioned her "blog." Everyone in the group scratched our heads and said "what the huh?" By May 2 of that year I had posted my first post on clocktower74.blogspot.com. I played with it for a couple of years, but in mid '03 kind of got serious about it. This year, however, the blog revolutionized my relationship with a small community of my friends. It really is something special that has happened here. I know it's impersonal and in writing a blog you can make your life prettier or uglier than what it really is. But there are friends whose blogs are to the right of what you are reading who I would have never kept up with and years would have went by without contact had it not been for their blog. I kind of see it as a group email forum. I'm happy we are here. Together.
I've spent quite a bit of time talking about events and occurrences. However, everything that happened this year served to change me in little and big ways. A couple of things come to mind...
1. In 2004 I became more confident with who I am. Actually, I think this year I came to understand myself better than I ever have before. It's a wonderful thing to find out that you aren't crazy or weird or anything else, but that you are just you.
2. This was the year that I came to terms with Estonia. If you know me well, you know my trips to eastern Europe in '96 and '98 shaped me in monumental ways. I spent several years coming to grips with how those experiences changed me. I dreamed of returning. I yearned to return, perhaps permanently. But this year I came to realize that it was what it was. One of those many things God uses to shape you. I'll forever cherish the friends I made there and how it shaped me as a person. But I've finally moved on.
3. As a corrolary to #2... 2004 was the year I became a Wacoan. My first two years here were spent hating the place. My third year was spent bearing it. This year I finally admitted it... Waco is my home, and will probably be my home for a long time. The lack of trees and the presence of a certain institution of higher learning that I care little for and the general dreariness of the place is still here. But in light of the world I have carved out for myself here, none of that means jack crap.
No year in review would be complete without a couple of lists. Here are some of mine. When I mention my favorite books and music and movies of the year, I am not limiting them to those things which were released this year. They are the things I took note of this year.
Top 5 Books...
5. "The Lost Message of Jesus," by Steve Chalke. -- I haven't talked much about this tiny little book (probably less than 200 pages,) that I read in January, but I should have. This book made me struggle with ideas about Jesus in 2004 in much the same way Phillip Yancey's "The Jesus I Never Knew" made me struggle in 1998. Of significant note, this is the only purely theological book I read this year.
4. "Newsweek: Election Issue." Alright, this is a magazine, not a book. But at over 150 pages, it should be. Writers from the magazine followed both the Bush and Kerry campaigns for over a year and had unfettered access, with the understanding that they would wait until after the election to tell their secrets. This was extremely engaging reading.
3. "My Faith so Far: A Story of Conversion and Confusion," by Patton Dodd. This guy had a wonderful idea: Write a memoir about his faith development between the ages of 18-20. Reading this was extremely healing for me, because he is the same age as me and went through some of the same struggles with faith I was going through at the exact same times. Extremely well written, Dodd exposes certain secrets of evangelical Christianity with grace, understanding, and, the thing I've needed for some time, forgiveness.
1.(Tie) "Understanding God's Will: How to Hack the Equation Without Formulas," by Kyle Lake. I know, I know, I'm probably obligated to put this in here and am very biased because of my friendship with the author. I acknowledge those things. But those things aside, this is a really good book. I would have given anything to have had this book 12 years ago. It would have saved me a lot of headaches. Kyle wrote this book the way he writes his sermons, in a very personal way to expose those things about God that we always suspected and hoped were true, but could never bring ourselves to admitting it or saying it in front of our peers and leaders.
1.(Tie) "The Kite Runner," by Khaled Hosseini. This book was to me in 2004 what "The Poisonwood Bible" was to me in 2001. The characters I fell in love with and yearned for their lives to turn out better. The plot twist in the center of the book had me speechless and in tears. The last half of the book I couldn't put down. I read it until 3:30 in the morning, even though I had to be up at 6:00. For someone who needs his sleep, this was big. I wept at the redemption that occurred in the last five or six pages.
Honorable Mentions: Mystic River by Dennis Lehane, Adventures in Missing the Point by Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo , Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington.
Top 5 Movies...
5. "About a Boy"-- I actually first saw this at the end of '03, but I led a Sunday School class at 1st Presbyterian on it in January, so it still counts. This movie made me smile, a lot.
4. "Love, Actually." Another Hugh Grant movie that I can't remember if I watched a the first of this year or the end of last. Aside from the fact that this movie was marketed as a family movie, and it definitely wasn't a family movie, I loved it.
3. "Mystic River." This is the first move where I read the book first. The book was better, but the movie was amazing. One of the first movies that made me appreciate good acting, thanks to the performances by Sean Penn and Tim Robbins.
2. "Saved!" I wrote about this here. I watched this and laughed a lot, but mostly cringed a lot, because I was Hillary Faye at one point. This movie needed to be made. Unfortunately, most evangelicals won't get past the liberal bias of the movie to see what it really says about us.
1. "In America." This was one of those movies where I couldn't talk afterwards. The depiction of everyday life was breathtaking.
Honorable mention: "Ray."
Top 6 Musical Moments... (Albums, songs, artists...)
6. "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," by U2. I have to admit, the reason you don't hear as much about u2 from me is because everyone always talks about u2 and I don't like bandwagons. But since "The Joshua Tree" I have loved these guys, and since "Achtung Baby" I have seen how extremely historical they are. This album didn't disappoint.
5. Big and Rich. Out of all my choices I'll probably get the most grief over this one. And, I admit, I may look back years from now and wonder what I was thinking. When I first heard "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy," I thought these guys were nothing more than cartoons. But the song grew on me, then I heard them sing the cover of "Seven Spanish Angels" and their new song "Holy Water," and I have slowly gotten hooked on the Big and Rich phenomenon. Big is eccentric and Rich has an angelic voice. Ten years from now they may be in the trash bin of history. Or they may be grouped alongside the likes of other outlaws like Waylon Jennings.
4. "One Moment More," by Mindy Smith. I first saw her video for "Come to Jesus" on CMT and was hooked. I'm still hooked. Wonderful album.
3. "Genius Loves Company," by Ray Charles. I grew up in the 80's, which led me to believe that Charles was only a country singer who sang a lot of duets with people. This album brought that Ray Charles back to me. Phenomenal.
1. (Tie.) "Be Here," by Keith Urban. This album is just fun to listen to. Urban has an amazing voice and his songs are laden with hooks of gold. He uses the bridge and crescendo for country songs like Bebo Norman does for Christian songs.
1. (Tie.) "Mud on the Tires," by Brad Paisley. I can think of about a half-dozen people from my hometown who could have written these songs. I think about Chandler when I listen to Brad Paisley. In the summer I was driving back from the Lake's ranch in Bosque when I first heard his duet "Whiskey Lullaby" with Allison Krauss. It was the first time I can remember that a song made me cry. A hundred years from now that song will be sung by country artists.
Honorable Mentions: "God's Will" by Martina McBride, "God Bless the Broken Road," by Rascal Flatts, "Long Time Coming, by Jonny Lang, and "Heavier Things," by John Mayer.
Well, that was long. Thanks for reading, if you made it to the end. Here's a sneak peek on what's on the horizon for Craig in 2005. And what better way to do it than with bullets...
- 2004 helped me get on my feet a bit financially. I'm hoping the next year I can see the end of the tunnel.
- Starting in January I'll be one of the contributors to a blog about Kyle's book. I'm looking forward to that. Hopefully it will be good writing practice.
- The rumors are starting to come at a faster pace over at Stuckeyvill.com, and it's looking more and more true. On January 17 TBS will start airing the first season of "Ed" on weekdays at noon. Tivo will be busy this year.
- I'd love to lose 25 more pounds before the end of the year.
- I've done a good job of staying in touch with my ETBU friends this year. In 2005 I really want to reestablish contact with people from earlier in my life like family and those from Timberline and Lindale.
- After a couple of years of running from many of the spiritual disciplines that were rammed down my throat by well meaning people growing up, I'd love to reapproach prayer and scripture reading.
- My number 1 resolution for 2005 is to finish writing a book of memoirs. Being published would be nice, but I'd love to have a finished product by the fall to give to friends.
For all of you who read faithfully, through all the crap and struggling and the occasional nugget of good writing, I want to say thank you . For those friends of mine who continue to share your lives with me and who incarnate Christ's love on a daily basis, thank you. You mean more to me than you know.
Here's to another year.