Sunday, November 23, 2008

Quote...

I've had this simple quote in my head for several days and have tried to develop a post around it. But I have no time to be creative these days, so I'll just share it with you. It's from the opening note of Wendy Bounds' Little Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town, and the Search for what Matters Most. It makes me think of my friends, old and new, and that wonderful sacred space that occupies the air between us.

To anyone who has ever known a spot like this, a spot that makes you feel more at home sometimes than home itself, I'd just like to add, go there if you still can. Be there. And don't wait for tomorrow. Go today.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Friends...

Dear Friends,

On Tuesday I attended the funeral of someone who was one of my best childhood friends. It seems I am destined to become a pro at this sort of thing much earlier than I would like.

This was not like Kyle. That death ripped a whole out of my life and forced me to reorder, rethink. To lay in the ashes until the tears refused to come anymore.

The death of Kevin has caused me great sadness. But we had been functionally removed from each others life for many years, save the once every few months email and once every few years lunch. The sadness I feel is less acute, more bearable, but also more fearful, shameful. Things should not happen this way. When you care about someone, you stay in touch. You let the moments linger, clock be damned.

Several years ago, in pondering how the disciples of Jesus could have left to prepare for the Sabbath after his death, I posted these thoughts...

How could they do this? How could they be so committed to these rituals that they would leave the body of the man who was their life for the previous three years, just so they could get ready for Sabbath.

I ponder this and I realize, they didn't know.

When Kyle died we became many things and one of them is this: We became a lingering people. In the emergency room and at the memorial service, at the funeral and at the grave site, we all lingered around for long periods of time. Part of this was to be with each other and part of it was to find out information but I can't help but believe that part of the reason we lingered is this: At the very core of who we are as a people, as the global and local people of The Way, is the knowledge of resurrection.

That first group of Jesus' followers left because they thought that was all there is, so they may as well just return to life as usual. We know different and when someone we love dies we are in on the secret.



We should all linger around each other a little longer...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Silly Me...

Today I was standing at the information desk at work, thinking that one of my coworkers was standing behind me. I was preparing to express my slight amount of shock at the fact that Freakonomics isn't out in paperback yet. (These are the important things that occupy my mind.) So I began my sentence "Can you believe Freakonomics..." In mid sentence I started turning around to look at the recepient of my feigned tirade and noticed whoever was there before was no longer standing there, and I was all alone. Here is how the complete sentence came out... "Can you believe Freakonomics... oh look, there's no one here to listen to me talk."

But there was a customer around the corner. After she picked herself off the ground from laughing she let me know I could talk to her. So me and a complete stranger had a discussion about how crazy it is that Freakonomics isn't out in paperback yet.

It was funny to me...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Thoughts...

Today is the last day of a relatively long vacation from work. It has been good to be able to devote some more time to school, both the learning part and the social part. Tomorrow I go back to the craziness that is full time work and full time school. Amidst the flurry of activity, this will probably be my last chance to share my election thoughts. (I know you've all been holding your breath...)

My prediction: It will be a landslide for Obama and it will be called very early in the night. The media is trying to create a story that McCain is closing in, but they have to do that in order to get people to tune in on Tuesday night. It's better for their pocketbooks than if people think the election is a done deal. Oh, and also, it'll be called early, probably by 10:00p.m. All it will take is for either Virginia or Florida to go Obama's way. After that happens, then McCain will have to win several states that Bush lost in '04 in order to make up for the losses.

Now, for my (perhaps surprising) analysis...

When Wednesday comes, it will be a great moment for America. I really believe that. Though our historic demons of racism will always be with us in some form, they will have been relegated to the shed out back where we put things to collect dust. A large part of our reputation that has been squandered over the past eight years will be restored and the leaders of the most rogue countries of the earth will have a harder time convincing their people that the United States is as evil as they had once thought. I truly believe an Obama administration will help foster a higher level of political discourse that makes it more possible for things to get done.

Oh, yeah... When Tuesday comes, I will cast my vote for John McCain. I am one of those ubiquitous single issue voters that get derisive looks and snickers wherever we go. Those who look down on us believe it asinine to quarantine a single issue and to make it the deciding factor. Those of us who do this see it as a no-brainer. Especially when it's the issue of abortion. It's ok to call me silly, but only if you think it is silly to believe that life begins at (or sometime very soon after) conception. If you think life begins only after the child exits the womb and begins breathing (and there are many intelligent people who believe this,) then I think you are morally obligated to consider me a buffoon for picking this issue to be my trump card. But if have similar views about life as me, then please save your ire for something more worthy. I'm often baffled at those who say they believe abortion to be murder, but that it's stupid for that to be the only issue you use when deciding who to vote for. Really? If someone runs on the platform that we should not judge or prevent people who want to point a gun and shoot Craig Nash, please, for the love of God, make it the only issue you vote for.

Wow, I didn't plan on writing that much. But there you have it.

That's all I've got. But if your itching for more, you should read THIS ARTICLE about Sarah Palin. It's written by Eugene Robinson, a very smart guy that I rarely agree with, but who always has insightful things to say.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Great Essay...

One of my favorite features of Newsweek is a column they carry titled My Turn, which gives non-journalists an opportunity to write an opinion piece. This week's is very thoughtful. After reading it I was reminded how comedic presidential campaigns can get in the candidate's attempts to say all the soothing words the public is begging to hear.

The article can be found here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Update...

Thought I'd share a little bulleted update...

-- For those of you who don't keep up with me via facebook, the great information distributor, you probably haven't heard that I was robbed. I returned home from work one night wondering why the breeze was blowing through the window in my living room, since I never have even attempted to open said window. Then I wondered why I could see to the breeze blowing through the curtains, since my television occupied the space where the curtains were blowing. I then realized there was a break in. They got everything I had that was worth anything, which wasn't much, but enough to cramp my style-- television, computer, a new cell phone I had just opened that day, and worst of all a digital camera that was given to me as a gift. Last week was rough dealing with all that ensues from a break in. As for now, I'll be spending a lot of time in the library rather than going in debt any further to purchase a new computer. The television, I have learned, I can do without.

-- Coming at just the right time, however, was my trip to California this past week to see Jen and the Lake kids. It was a great trip, and I'm pretty sure I saw Yoko Ono.

-- I'm on vacation the rest of the week and will be spending it doing school stuff. I am managing school/work slightly sub par. I'm finding the most frustrating thing about working full time while taking classes is the lack of ability to actually process through what I am learning both intellectually and through social interactions.

-- Here's something I was thinking on the plane ride home today... I think it's funny how four years ago, when Bush won a second term, Christians who were more left-leaning in their politics loved to state that their hope is not in this world. I'm finding these same people are not saying this as much, as it seems their chosen candidate is likely to win. But I AM hearing it among more conservative Christians. I guess the moral of the story is that our hope is not in this world, except when it is.

-- On Friday we attended a fall festival on the Fuller campus. Jude obtained from someone a balloon tied to a rubber band that he spent the weekend playing with. Every morning, however, he realized the balloon was getting smaller. Last night he came to the conclusion that the balloon was just going to keep diminishing until it is a functional balloon no longer. In an adorable, but completely pitiful display, he stuck his lip out and held back a cry saying "I guess I'm just not going to get to play with this balloon anymore." Sometimes I feel like my life is that balloon.

-- Ok, to save this post from being a downer closing, I'll share a better story. Sutton, whose favorite thing being right, told me he already knew something. I asked him if there was anything in the whole world that he didn't know. After thinking for a bit he called me over and whispered in my ear... "When I was a baby, I didn't know brown people existed."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Great Interview...

Although MSNBC has become the Fox of the left, I am still loyal to it as my news of choice. Rachel Maddow has a new show that I enjoy watching, even though it drives me batty. Using satire and sarcasm, she demeans the conservative side of the political aisle. Finally, though, someone has called a liberal out on their pronouncements to "elevate the tone" while effectively lowering the bar. I looked up from my homework and my jaw dropped when I heard what was going on. Enjoy and discuss...


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ramblings...

"You're still in America in the monastery, and in Hope Church-- these absurd and holy places-- you're still in the modern world. But these places demand that you give up any notion of dominance or control. In these places you wait, and the places mold you." -- Kathleen Norris describing her church, Hope Church, in Dakota: A Spiritual Geography.

"Dakota is a painful reminder of human limits, just as cities and shopping malls are attempts to deny them." -- Also from Dakota.


The concrete and steel that is under our feet and over our heads have brought us together. They make it possible for someone like me to live in a place where my neighbors are most assuredly not like me. On most days these elements serve as catalysts for an economy that provides enough to survive, if not thrive.

But the ease of life created by cities has removed us from the desperation that has driven many over time into the arms of God. So we turn inward and find the struggle there. And at the end of that struggle, the one with demons of pride, lust, and gluttony, we may find ourselves needing God. But it all seems a little cheap in the end compared to people whose very existences are literally at stake.

Being in school is invigorating in many ways, but it has its drawbacks. Most notably is the sense that everybody is just passing through. Add that to the fact that I'm a part of a church whose life revolves those just passing through, and it is no wonder that despair can sometimes set in.

This is why I live for the times I get to sit around a table with my friends who live in this place. Though we may not have a lot of ground to plow and the weather patterns don't necessarily thrust us into reliance on God, we recognize that there is dirt inside us that needs cultivated in order for this long conversion toward being God's people to spring forth. And although we may not be here forever, we are more than just passing through.

Of course there is nothing wrong with just passing through. There have been nomads from the beginning of time. In fact, the tendency to roam may, as a survival instinct, be more wired into our DNA than the tendency to stay. But I've often felt that the desire of some to always be looking to the next thing can be more of a refusal to admit that one day they will die.

Today, in the middle of this city of steel, concrete, and of people just passing through, we spoke out loud. We spoke words from Paul that rumble beneath the ground not just during the Easter season, but during seasons of loss and despair. We spoke them out of the depths. Together, those transient and those with feet planted on the ground, we spoke those words to each other, into the dry and dusty places waiting to be sanctified... "Where, oh death is your victory? Where, oh death is your sting?"

Friday, October 10, 2008

Do you think?...

This is bound to be controversial, but haven't we all been thinking the same thing for the last decade or so?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

I Often Do Not Heart Customers...

Somewhere along the way I became a smart ass. I suppose this is the lot of anyone working retail for an extended season of their life. Just when I get tired of belaboring the point of rudeness and immaturity, someone ups and does something that just elicits a hearty "Wow!"

Sometime in the a.m., in the kids section.

Can I help you with something m'am?

Yes, my brother bought these magazines for me yesterday and the guy up front says I can't return them.

Yes m'am. I'm sorry, but we have a strict return policy on magazines. We technically aren't allowed to return them at all, but especially if it's not on the same day of purchase.

Well, it's been less than 24 hours.

I understand and I apologize, but its not within the same calendar day.

This really disappoints me.

I really am terribly sorry. Is there something I can help you find?

No, not really.

Ok, well just let me know if there's something else I can do.

(Halfway between the children's department and the door, throwing the bag of magazines up at a velocity that it hits the high ceiling...) You can keep your damn magazines!

(In a state of disbelief...) Wow. M'am, thanks for responding with so much maturity.

I'm going to remember this!

Well, we hate to lose your business.

You can kiss my ass!

(Continued state of disbelief, only without words.)

(As the lady exits the door, approaches entering customer) Don't by anything from them, they won't take it back!

____________________________________________

I have no pretensions that my zingers were especially funny. In fact, like George Costanza I have since come up with numerous comebacks that would have been much more devastating. But alas, you only have the moment and you can't go back.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Here...

Ok, I'm back to low-expectation blogging. After a season where I began trying to write like a writer and people read my blog like readers, I came to a point where I was afraid the next post could never live up to the past. But I'm done with that and ready to share things about my day without any pretension of profundity.

I have had the day off. I spent some time this morning at the Laundrymat on Waco Drive to wash clothes. I am getting closer to my goal of of reaching the high score on Mrs. Pac Man there by the end of the year. Only 70,000 more points to go.

The rest of the day has been spent studying, watching the economic collapse, and trying to figure out what is going on with Jane. She used to have no problem going outside for a few hours at a time, but now I chase her around the house and have to force her out. Not quite sure what's going on there.

I'm about to head up to Truett for the preaching convocation sponsored by the Kyle Lake Foundation.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Interesting Article...

Terri Jo Ryan had a good article in this morning's Trib. You can read it HERE.

The print edition of the story had two statements with two boxes beside it. The first statement read (loosely): Be next in line to the most powerful position in the world. The box next to it was checked. The next statement read: Lead a local congregation. The box next to it was X'ed out.

I understand there were some straw men (or straw women?) in the article, but it's good fodder for discussion.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

On Palin...

I went in to this political season with a soft resolution to refrain from talking much about the presidential race on my blog. The longer I continue updating this site, the more embarrassed I get at things I said years ago and I didn't want to make any ridiculous uninformed statements that I would look back on years from now with regret. But the Sarah Palin event is too compelling for me to resist. So here goes, one of my first hesitant postings of the election.

I really like the lady. Has there been another political figure in recent memory that is more literally a "person of the people" than Sarah Palin? She is someone I can imagine running into at H-E-B and having a real conversation with about her kids, local news, or sports. I heard Joe Biden today say that in her entire speech she never said the words "middle class." I think this is humorous and proves out out of touch he actually is with the middle class. Her very story screams middle class. I think it is possible the Democrats could greatly underestimate the connection someone like Palin can make with certain blue collar voters that would never consider voting Republican.

What I really loved about her speech is that it took the gloves off of the McCain campaign where it came to questioning Obama. I think because of the obvious historic nature of his candidacy, no one really knew if they could treat him like a normal person who wants to be president. Palin's attacks on Obama actually marks, in my opinion, at least as great a stride in race relations as the possibility of him being president does. It means that we are finally not only not considering race as a barrier for upward mobility, but also that we are no longer afraid to criticize someone of color that we disagree with on principles. My gut feeling is that this is something Obama appreciates as well. The greatest attack line (which is really all the VP in an election is good for) was the making fun of "community organizers." This is honestly a job that I had never heard of until Obama's story became a part of our national consciousness. I thought I was the only one, but I guess I wasn't.

Okay, enough of the praise. There is a huge concern with Palin I have that could possibly make me rethink voting for McCain. I am actually shocked that the liberal media (and I'm increasingly believing the truth of that) has not jumped on. Did anyone else notice Palin's lapel pin? It was incredibly small, but it appeared to me to be the Israeli flag. Now, I have no problem with Israel and believe them to be a valuable ally of the United States in the Middle East. But I have run in evangelical circles enough recognize that her wearing that pin wasn't simply a mark of solidarity with one of our friends. If it were she would also be wearing flags of Britain, Australia, and of all the East European countries. But the Israeli flag pin alone reveals something disturbing to me-- it is an obvious wink to those who believe our alliance with Israel is a divinely ordained one, and one that allows us to see our military as an arm in the arsenal of God. These people, led by guys like John Hagee and Rod Parsley, are anticipating Armageddon and have no problem using our military (and our nuclear weapons) to speed up the process.

I hope I am overreaching in my assessment. It'll be interesting to see if the media makes anything of this. I think it is probably something that is on their radar, but fear of appearing anti-semitic is likely keeping them from bringing it up as an issue.

So, that's a lot of rambling. I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'm open to being reproved...
____________________________________
Edit: After posting this I did a little further research on the lapel pin. There are some saying that it was a pin worn by family members of those in the military who are in harms way-- which makes sense because of her oldest son. I stand corrected-- but it still looks like the Israeli flag to me.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Catching Up...

In all likelihood, my blog will probably return to being more like what it was in the early days-- a place for me to catch everyone up on what's going on in my life. The essay-type posts will diminish some as I focus on studying. I really hate this, but time is what it is, and I have less of it.

I stuck around through some rough times at work over the past couple of years just to get the extra week of vacation that comes with having five years behind my belt. An it is proving useful. I am taking one of those weeks right now so I can hit the ground running with school, and I am thankful I did. I have needed this time to get my mind back into the mode of thinking necessary for "structured learning."

Ten years after gaining a Bachelor of Arts in Religion, I am taking my first Greek class. And my head is swimming. My other classes will require a good deal of hard work for me to do well. Greek will require a good deal of hard work and substantial doses of divine intervention. I am open to any free advice you veterans have for me.

Today I went to see Step Brothers in order to reward myself for the hours of work I put into Greek this morning. It wasn't much of a reward. But being at the movies got me to thinking how excited I am about the release of The Road coming out this fall. If you haven't read the book yet, I highly recommend it before the movie comes out.

That's about it for now. I need my sleep now more than ever.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

No Fear...

Lately my life has taken on a good kind of quiet. This dispensation began over a month ago when, in a tear filled moment in the parking lot of Ninfa's, I said goodbye to the three little people who made my days dance with the soundtrack of vitality. It was in the car driving home that I came to grips with the axiom that everyone else except for me had seemed to master-- Change happens. I'm a good learner, but I'm a slow learner. I grappled with the lesson of change for years, clinging to the words of people from Garrison Keillor to Kathleen Norris, writers who celebrate lives of repetition and extol the virtues of ritual and the expected. But they had become my crutch, an excuse to never look forward.

But now I'm looking forward and backward, and I'm also looking all around me. And I am seeing things again. Things that would have passed me by in my dispensation of grief. Wonderful things. Things that do not get much airplay. Things such as this...

Yesterday as I was driving on Lake Air, approaching Bosque, I noticed an elderly man had fallen on the sidewalk and a group of people were gathered around him. Not knowing if any help had been called, I pulled over into the next parking lot and walked over to see what I could do. A young black man dressed in urban attire (read: bling) was pacing back and forth. I asked him what happened. He said that the man was walking along and fell down, almost into the street. The younger guy was terrified because he had almost hit him. The elderly gentleman, obviously suffering from dementia of some kind, was being tended to by a rather large white lady adorned from head to toe in tatoos and a middle aged hispanic man wearing a uniform and who appeared to be on his way home from work. A cop showed up and took charge of the situation, at which point the rest of us began to walk away, so as to not be a distraction.

As I was walking away I heard the younger guy thank the other two for stopping. He saw what happened and panicked, not knowing what to do. The lady responded that it was know big deal, she just wanted to be a good neighbor.

Now I know this sounds like it is straight out of one of those insurance commercials about how every day people do the right thing and when other people see this they start doing the right thing. Maybe this is true. Who knows? But as I drove away this verse from the Bible somehow popped into my head-- "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear." I'm not sure what that had to do with anything that had just happened other than to cause me to realize how much of our lives are determined by fear. Fear of the future, fear of the past catching up with us, fear of our neighbor and fear of the unknown. It seems as if fear is all around us. It is the main instrument used by both (yes, both) political parties to shore up votes. It lurks around our corners and controls many of our lives.

But for three people yesterday, fear didn't divide, it brought together. And in the middle of this city, with police and ambulance sirens descending on the scene of the event, there was a sense of quiet. I got into my car, closed the door and pulled out of the parking lot on my way home. Over my speakers were the words from a Crowder Band song... "All the love in the world is right here among us, and hatred too...and so we must choose what our hands will do." Silence in the midst of chaos. I thought of the people I have said goodbye to, the people I have recently met from beginning school, and those I love that are still close. And for the first time in a really long time, I was not afraid.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Adventures in returning to school...

This is either a post about how old I am, or how quickly things change. Probably both.

I had the day off and mentally dedicated the entire morning to standing in line at Baylor. I had a simple form to turn in to the cashiers office and assumed university life the week before classes begin hadn't changed much since I was an undergrad. So I walked to the end of the line and mentally went into zombie state. Less than five minutes later I hear the receptionist say "Next." I looked up to see that I was at the front of the line. The lady apologized for making me wait so long. I informed her that that was one of the shortest lines I've ever stood in.

Walking out of the building I remembered fifteen years before, registering for classes at TJC. There was a huge open room filled with professors and advisers sitting at tables. Each particular course had it's own spot. You actually STOOD IN LINE just to sign up for a class. It wasn't unusual for you to wait in line for over an hour for a particular class, only to get to the table and find out the class had just filled up. It was a grueling process of delay and disappointment.

Now, though, things are done on those internets thingies. Apparently I have already done everything I need to do to begin school. Everything online tells me I'm "all clear," but I still have this great fear that I will walk into class the first day only to be told the class is full and I can't take it. I'm crossing my fingers...

___________________
Edit: I wrote this post last night. When I woke up this morning CNN.COM had printed THIS annual story.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Answering Aaron...

Aaron, in a comment on one of my recent posts, asked me to review a post of his from a few years back and to think about whether or not I am in a place of agreement with it. His post can be found HERE. I honestly don't remember the post, but I notice from the date that it was written during a time of my life when I wasn't too concerned with much of anything other than making it through a moment with enough oxygen to survive. It appears that there was a good conversation going on between Aaron, Cory, and Jason.

Aaron's basic question is if I agree with his tenet that emergent voices(mainly McLaren) could had initially used a little more humility in their writings concerning what they describe as a new way of thinking about and experiencing faith. And my basic answer is, after a little more life perspective-- Absolutely. I look back on my measly writings and see that although I sought to convey a sense of gentleness and humility, the content of what was being said ("post" this and "post" that) was, by its very nature, quite pretentious. In essence, the continual use of the prefix "post" revealed that many of us believed we could make extremely grand statements about our present that previously were reserved for historians.

But I will say this-- The way emerging thinkers wrestle with postmodern ideas makes it more likely that they will have an inordinate amount of sinful pride as it relates to their relationship with the larger evangelical world. But it also gives them an ability to recognize this pride much quicker than those who place such a high premium on an absolute belief of traditional theological doctrines (i.e. Calvinism- Arminianism.) I've always understood that a Christian dialogue with postmodern thought should not lead to uncertainty, as many believe, but to humility. I don't deny absolute truth. I do, however, question whether or not there is any tool available to humanity to objectively discover what absolute truth is. This "hunch" of mine should not lead to despair, but to hope. It should not lead to a belief that I am above history and not bound to the centuries of struggle great people of the faith have had, but rather to a confession that I am just as inadequate at understanding as the next guy, and that what I know now should not be held so tightly that I cannot be taught differently.

So, that's a lot of words to answer a question in the affirmative.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Just something...

I saw a bumper sticker today for a certain church in town that read "God is still in charge, and it is all important."

While I'm sure I there are significant differences in how I and this church interpret the words "in charge," I still hold to the belief that this world belongs to God and that God has the first and the last word concerning all its affairs. And no other statement describes how I want to live in this world than the phrase "...and it is all important."

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Going back...

Several weeks ago I mentioned that this fall I would be returning to Truett seminary. Shortly thereafter I received a few comments and emails from people wanting me to talk through that a bit more.

First, a little clarification. Most acquaintances I've spoken with think that I have a significant amount of the requirements to complete a seminary degree, but I actually only attended Truett for a semester in the fall of 2002. So I'm still practically at the beginning. I left for one reason-- I was broke. Today I live with meager financial resources, but back then I was so deep in the hole it made no sense for me not to be working full time.

But it was a good time for me to put the brakes on a graduate degree for other reasons. Highest among them is the fact that I was not in a place where I was ready to learn. This was in the days shortly after we had all finished reading A New Kind of Christian and we "knew." We felt McLaren had pulled the veil back on hundreds of years of church history and we were ready to ride the tide of revolution. (This was, of course, before McLaren proved to be not much more that what many of his critics charged him with, and that we, in our McLaren hysteria, denied vehemently-- A repackaging of a 60's political-theological liberal) In the midst of all the "above the line" talk, I was not prepared to stand on the line that the saints of the past had wrestled hard with, and had found God on. I was only ready to preach the emergent gospel of communal bliss. (I was slow to grab on to the "justice" side of that gospel coin.) I cast a knowing eye on the college-sophomore phenomenon of being a smart-ass-know-it-all, but I was not so different myself.

I'm sure there are similar things I am blind to now, but hopefully I'm in a more humble place, ready and open.

The reasons I am returning are twofold. One is that a few people that I love and respect dearly have been gently nudging me in this direction for a few years. They have confirmed things about me that they felt were some of my gifts. Always a sucker for the good things people have to say about me, I began to take these compliments to heart and slowly came to a realization that I needed to go ahead and get it out of the way.

The second, and perhaps more authentic reason for heading back to Truett is that I am beginning to get tired of a life that is simply one more damn thing after another. For years I have preached the gospel of the mundane-- the good new that God is alive and well in the routines and boring moments of people living hardscrabble lives in the normal day-to-day. I still preach that gospel and believe it fully. But I'm also ready for the other side, the side that says God is also alive and well in new things, in the adventure of lives that seek out challenges.

So, that's that. Hopefully there will be seminary update blogs as the years go on.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Return...

It has been a different kind of summer and, as my previous post suggests, one that has provided little in the way of motivation to sit down and write. I have discovered that writers block is a weight on your brain that gets exponentially heavier the longer you go without actually taking the time to put words to the page (or screen.)

So here I am, trying to get rid of some of that debilitating weight.

Things are changing. If you know me well, you know how difficult this is for me. Always one for the predictable, I become irritable and sluggish when I realize that my world is moving in a new direction. But I'm growing older and, like the slow learner I can sometimes be, have realized that the tomorrows will often look vastly different than the yesterdays. I don't have to like it, but I'm coming to a place where I get it.

So that's it. You probably wish my return to blogging was longer and contained some funny or poignant story. But this is all you get. I'm taking baby steps back into the world.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

...

Can't...seem...to...gather...the...energy...to...write.

Man, that was exhausting.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Untitled...

For almost eight years now I have been able count on at least one constant. Regardless of how tragic, joyful, busy, or boring my life has been at any given moment, there has always been a Lake kid around to give it meaning and color. I've shared this many times before, but the day after Kyle and I met, Avery was born. And in ways that had yet to be seen, I was as well. Two years after that, in the early morning hours of a hot July day, Sutton and Jude arrived and breathed the cool wind of chaos into my life and the life of our community. The best description of these three kids are that when they are in the room, there is force-- a palpable awareness that the tectonic plates of the immediate vicinity could shift at any time, releasing joy, pain, despair or silliness, sometimes simultaneously.

If you've read my blog for any amount of time, you know they are the source of my best stories and the reason I have had to keep moving, one step at a time. It is because of this that my upcoming week will be one of the hardest I've had to endure for quite some time. Jen and the kids are leaving the sacred grounds of Waco for the sunny skies of California. I am being honest when I say that, for numerous reasons, this is a good move for them, giving them the opportunity to be together in a new place with new faces and the fresh balm of adventure to help further heal their souls. It's almost enough reason to make the emptiness I feel somewhat bearable.

In my dresser drawer is a small collection of things that have ended up in my pockets over the years-- A feather Sutton found outside of school one day; A beat up Indianopolis Colts matchbox car Jude picked up in Cameron Park; A purple hair clip of Avery's. In each case I was asked to put it away for safekeeping until they got home, and in each case I was promised to swear that I wouldn't lose it. Well I have kept the promise not to lose these things, but I'll keep them with me until I am asked to return them. Of course until they learn to read blogs I doubt they will remember these things they handed to me months ago. In the meantime I'll continue to keep them safe and will hold them as artifacts, holy reminders that a large chunk of my life has been filled with nothing less than the Breath of God.



Friday, July 04, 2008

4rth...

Happy Fourth of July everybody. If you have some free time today, you should read THIS ARTICLE, which was the cover story for Time Magazine this week. I found it quite insightful.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Chase...

This afternoon I brought my dog Jane from my house to Tom and Beth's, which I am staying at while they are gone on vacation. As I opened the gate to the back yard Jane spotted a squirrel.

Jane has always dreamed of catching a squirrel, but up until that moment it was a statistical improbability for her, since I normally have her on a leash. In the split moment after the door was opened she looked at me, I at her, and we both realized, to my fear and her joy, that there was no leash attaching us. Like a thoroughbred straight out the gates, she quickly created distance between herself and me and aimed her snout like a heat seeking missile toward her intended target.

I assumed the squirrel would run to the fence, climb up it, and the chase would be over as quick as it started. It made it to the fence, but didn't run up it. I quickly saw that the squirrel was small, probably young, and was just getting it's running legs, not quite sure of it's climbing abilities. It turned around, her possible killer a split second behind her, then ran UNDERNEATH Jane, causing my dog to jump so high and awkwardly that she tumbled over.

Quickly regaining her footing, Jane repositioned herself and picked up speed again. At this point the squirrel was heading in my direction. There was a tree between me and the squirrel, so (again) I assumed it would scale the tree. No such luck. As it passed the tree, there was only one thing in between it and a small opening at the bottom of the fence-- Me.

In that small moment I had a couple of thoughts. One was about all the series of rabies shots in my stomach I would soon be forced to endure. The other was a question of whether or not I wanted Jane to catch the squirrel. I began weighing the options. (Yes, all this happened within a small window of time) If she caught it before it reached me, then I'd be safe from rabies (and the subsequent rabies shots.) It would also be good for her self image to accomplish something that is in her blood to do, which is to catch and kill something.

Then I thought about the blood. I would have to clean up the blood. And, my dog would know what blood tasted like, which could turn her into Cujo.

I then realized that I have to stop thinking of nonsense, because there is a squirrel just five feet away from me, and it began eying me like I was a tree. A tree that is manageable.

The rest is a blur to me. All I remember is being air born, trying to create vertical space between me and the rodent. It made it to safety.

As we walked up to the house I looked at my dog. It appeared as if she had a look of satisfaction. I didn't catch that thing, she seemed to be saying, but DAMN that was fun.

Stuff...

Things have been relatively quiet in my world lately. As far as summers go, this one has been uneventful. Here's some random stuff I've enjoyed lately...

-- I've been loving the new country group Lady Antebellum. You should check out their songs Love Don't Live Here and Things People Say.

-- I spent much of the first part of the summer trying to read the Bible more. I read the book of Acts and then moved on to I and II Samuel. There's some crazy stuff in the Samuels, such as the use of a Sylvia Browne-type character to call up the spirit of Samuel. I had not clue. Crazy, crazy.

-- There's a great article in this week's Time Magazine about patriotism. It explains the differences between how conservatives and liberals view what it means to be patriotic, and then shows how both side needs to embrace a little of the other in order to have a more complete, and humble, patriotic fervor. It includes thoughtful articles by both McCain and Obama.

-- I've been watching Nashville Star. I'm pulling for Melissa and Gabe.

-- It's been hard to get into books lately, but I'm excited because Kathleen Norris has a new one coming out in September.

That's all for now. I'm going to bed.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Church...

It's summer, the time when church youth groups on their way to and from camps and mission trips stop by our church to experience the music of The David Crowder Band. In my attitude, and I believe in the attitudes of others who have remained at UBC for several years, I have seen a progression of reactions to this phenomenon. The beginning stage consists of acting surprised that anyone would want to go out of their way to visit a church because of who leads the musical part of our worship. It is here in conversation where we pull out our respective stories of where we were when we "found out" the DCB was a "big deal." This usually consisted of us overhearing someone enthusiastically reaping praise upon the band and then feigning surprise that anyone knew who they were. The purpose of this approach was to exhibit a sophisticated detachment from any mindset that may suggest we go to UBC just for the music.

The next stage is anger. I think most of the time this begins as pretend anger (more detachment,) and occasionally evolves into genuine indignation. Here is where we say something about boundaries and how we feel like zoo animals being watched by paying customers.

Eventually we settle into an acceptance that we are what we are-- A Destination Church. I suspect Destination Churches are a relatively new phenomenon, probably nonexistent before television. I can't imagine my grandparents, devout as they were, wondering what it may be like to visit a church outside of their home town. That, to them, would be insanity. But for me, raised in the age of celebrity, I cannot act surprised when people actually like something, in this case a worship band, that is not immediately in front of them every Sunday. Because I have my own Christian celebrities I wouldn't mind seeing every now and then as well.

Not sure where that is going, except that I have three stories about my church to share with you.

Story 1.
Several days ago at work I noticed, from a distance, someone pick up a book by a relatively popular author who is part of the Emerging Church Movement. I could see a negative reaction appear on this person's face. My natural instinct was to try and engage in a little conversation, but I chose instead to file it away for another time. Either I have shown remarkable growth in this area, or I'm just tired of talking. But the conversation eventually came to me. I was asked by the person whether or not I went to church. After a fruitless attempt at lying, I said that yes, I did go to church. I was then asked where, to which I told the truth, and added the caveat that if this person wanted to be critical of Emerging Church thought, then I'd probably be a safe person to speak to. I suppose it was my invitation to honesty that empowered this person to be so blunt in saying, "I'd be interested in knowing why you'd want to go THERE." I shared the reasons why I arrived there, acknowledged that some of her concerns with our type of church are valid and true most of the time, and then confessed that the reason I'm still there is because it's easier to stay than to leave and that I'd just be trading one set of problems for another.

Story 2.

Several weeks ago I ran into an old friend who asked what I have been up to. After hearing where I lived I was then asked where I went to church. Upon hearing the answer my old friend replied reverently, as a child talks about Disneyworld, "Oh, that is SUCH a great church." I told this person that they were correct, it IS such a great church. My inner demeanor changed, though, when I asked when my friend had visited my church and the answer was "Never, I've just heard a lot about it." If I were in a more contrarian mood, I would have clarified that what I meant by being a "great church" and what my friend meant were two totally different things. I've got lines on my face, bags under my eyes, and a collection of restless nights to prove that a great church community rarely means a life of bliss.

Story 3.

The youth group this past Sunday took up most of the center seats, those vacated by students away for the summer. It was an expressive group, as far as hand placement was concerned, much like the first few Sundays of the fall semester. When the sermon was finished and the ushers called for offering, the band began to play. Our visitors had obviously not received the memo that this is the time to pray, think about lunch, or silently look around and judge your neighbor for praying or thinking about lunch. So they stood and they raised their hands and closed their eyes as tight as they possibly could. When this happened I realized something about myself. For the better part of my life, as far as my faith is concerned, I have been competitive person. In my younger years this competitiveness manifest itself in being more spiritual than anyone else. Later, once I realized the futility of that, I tried to be the most cynical person in the room. If I couldn't raise my hands as high or close my eyes as tight as you, then damn it, I'm going to secretly demean you better than anyone else can.

But this past week, when the middle section stood, raised their hands and closed their eyes, something inside me was able to say-- You know what? Good for them. I'm really happy they are having this experience.

So, there's that. Do with it what you will.

Monday, June 02, 2008

hereiamiamhere...

this post will be truncated sentences. read not into change of style. i'm just lazy.

several weeks without television or internet. nice. nicer than originally anticipated. like a monastic retreat in the middle of my life, the silence and freedom is liberating.

something new-- i'm (re)beginning seminary in the fall. Truett. (I'm now too Waco to leave Waco.) the hardest thing about going back to school? all the damn passwords I have to remember. between work, school, personal stuff, there are literally dozens of passwords. this morning spent trying to remember Baylor passwords. exhausting.

another something new-- the new house is amazing. jane loves it as much as i. i now own a dining room table. officially an adult.

finally finished leif enger's new book. slightly disappointing, but good nonetheless.

an estimated 61.545% of my married friends are pregnant, and i am officially 100% happy about this fact.

i am currently reading-- 1. the acts of the apostles, 2. amazing grace: a vocabulary of faith by kathleen norris, 3. maximum city (forgot name of author,) about bombay india.

internet deprivation won't be permanent, so look for more regular posts (in complete, semi-well-formed sentences) mid-summer.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

More Little Chapel...

I somewhat sheepishly announced to people at lunch that I kind of feel like it was God who had me meet the couple I met after church today. And as you know, I'm (perhaps sinfully) hesitant to assign anything to God, even the glaring obvious things. If it was God, I'm not sure what the purpose was. Maybe just to bring a little more happiness to the past few days, which were already being good to me and bringing me out of my week and a half funk.

If you've been around me, or if you've read my blog, you've heard me mention on several occasions the book Little Chapel on the River by Wendy Bounds, and how it was one of the best pictures of what true community looks like. The book tells the story of Guinans, a general store and pub located in Garrison, New York, just across the Hudson River from West Point. People from all walks of life, governors and janitors, soldiers and peaceniks, had called Guinans their home away from home for over fifty years. One guy who moved away from Garrison but drove over fifty miles once a week just to hang out at Guinans dubbed the pub his church. Thus, The Little Chapel on the River. (I wrote about a note I received from the author in my year end post found HERE.)

Today after church as I was making my weekly post-service walk to the back restroom, I overheard an older couple, parents of a recent graduate, walking in the backside wondering amongst themselves if the church was an old store. Eavesdropping, and a tour guide at heart, I confirmed that it was and struck up a conversation-- Hello, how are you, where are you from, type thing. They said New York. Me, as if I am an expert at New York geography (I'm not) asked where in New York. They replied the Hudson Valley, just across the river from West Point. Imagine their pleasure when I shrieked like a kid, "Garrison?!"

It turned out that they were from Garrison. They were regulars at the Little Chapel for years and said their daughter practically grew up there. As we talked about the pub they would mention names of friends of theirs, people who I had recognized from the book. It was a great experience. And out of it, I received an open invitation to come stay with them anytime I'm in New York.

So the moral of the story is that it pays to read. Or maybe it just pays to have a bladder that instinctively needs emptying at the end of church.

Friday, May 16, 2008

"Time Keeps Moving From a Crawl to a Run..."

Early in When It Don't Come Easy, Patty Griffin wonders four times if we'll ever get home tonight. If I had to assign words to the past week or so, those would be the ones. It hasn't come easy. Realization that my world is about to change in ways both revolutionary and minute has stunned me into a scrambling stupor to try and find some solace and direction. The thought that this great idea of "home" is the great North Star by which we find our bearings has bore down on me and I have tried to figure out what the next step will be, and where mine is.

The protagonist in Leif Enger's new book So Brave, Young, and Handsome, is an author who has struggled for years to match the success of his debut novel. He said that in his stories if he ever approached running out of material or needed to move them along to the next place, he just through a river in front of the characters and waited to see what they would do with it.

Tonight I had dinner with two of my closest friends and their son at a restaurant on the river. It was a perfect evening that topped off a not-so-perfect few days. During the silences I thought of that Patty Griffin song. I thought of the people who have driven out to find me as I broke down, and have stayed by me when it didn't come easy. I looked out over the Brazos, ducks heading where they needed to be and the water shimmering in the mid-evening early-summer sun. In the silences I wondered if I would ever get home.

I think I probably will.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

YesNoMaybe...

This is Jude.



This is a letter I wrote to Jude a little over four years ago.

This is a conversation I had with Jude yesterday when I picked the kids up from school--

Jude: Craig, what are we going to do today?
Me: I don't know, I was going to take you to the park, but it is very wet from the rain. So I think I'll take you to Chic-Fil-A to play on their playground.
Jude: Can we have Ice Cream?
Me (seriously contemplating the proposition): I don't know, maybe.
Jude, with excitement: Yay!!!!!
Me: I didn't say we would, I said MAYBE.
Jude: Yeah, but with you "Maybe" always means "Yes."

(later at Chic-Fil-A, the four of us nose deep into vanilla ice cream cones, Jude looking sideways at me with his silly eyes)

Jude: See, I told you. Maybe always means yes.

I love that Jude.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Tagged...

So although I am offically "back," I have yet to drum up the energy to post anything. I mentioned to a friend today that although I'm pretty sure I've never been "clinically depressed," the fast few days have been the closest I've come to brushing shoulders with it. This has given me no energy to write. But alas, Danielle has tagged me, forcing me out of my self-pitying slumber. She has asked that I share six random things about either myself or my week, and then to tag someone else.

1. This week I found a great place to live when my lease here on Washingon expires at the end of the month.
2. In the past few hours I have had a conversation that will probably alter my future.
3. I used to want everyone to like me. Now I am indifferent to about 99% of the people I know, but have about a dozen people that I spend my life trying to win the comraderie and affection of.
4. Many people already know this about me, but I have a deformed right big-toe. It looks broken.
5. One time early in elementary school (like first or second grade) I was walking down the hall, by a row of coat hooks. I had this thought, "I wonder if I will remember this moment next year?" The next year I remembered that moment. Ever since then, I think about that moment about once a week.
6. I sometimes think of (and hope for) a day when I am cool, calm, and collected. When this comes I will be able to smile at whatever comes my way, and will have a calm, detached assurance that I will be ok, regardless of what I am going through.

I tag Josh.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Back...

I'm back. After months of mooching off of Robin Howard's kindness, I have finally dropped the dollars to have my laptop fixed.

I'll return to blogging soon. A lot has happened in the past couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Amen--ya...

With the exception of the year I spent working in Dallas, I have been surrounded by students since I entered college fifteen years ago. There is something invigorating about this, but I've also tended to move toward a state of cynicism where young people are concerned. Their idealism can seem especially naive'. Because they know they only have a small amount of time in the stage of life they are in, they can come across as pushy and impatient, needing to impact people around them as quick and forcefully as they possibly can. It's hard for young people to take the long view of things.

Case in point: A couple of weeks ago someone recited at THIS SERVICE what I will call The Prayer Heard Around the World, (or, at least the prayer heard around the vicinity of I-35.) I was at the service, but I don't remember noticing anything strange about it, other than perhaps it was delivered with a certain amount of passion consistent with the personality of the guy praying. To be honest, I often take the prayer time as an opportunity to look around at people, or possibly contemplate where I'll eat lunch after church. Later in the week, however, I found out that everyone was talking about it because of it's politically-charged content. When told what was said, I immediately thought yeah, I have a problem with that.

But I believe I had a growing-up experience as well. I connected the person with the prayer and realized that some people, like this guy who I consider a cordial acquaintance, by virtue of their service and compassion for people, get more free passes from me than others. As long as there is enough people in a community who serve as a balance by standing up and bitching about what they consider uninformed youthful zeal (and assuming there are leaders who are not threatened by this,) does it hurt to have someone say a prayer that is slightly misguided, but that at least makes us think and may nudge us out of our comfortable existences?

Earlier this afternoon I was listening to that Rob Thomas song Little Wonders from some kids movie that I have yet to see. It's one of those songs that tries to remind you the things that are really important. As I was listening, I found THIS STORY on the Waco Trib's website about a woman who was killed in a traffic accident at an intersection that I cross several times a week. I was stricken and finally realized that maybe taking the long view of things IS the uninformed way to live. What if there is no long view? Our lives are made in the twist and turns of fate, in the small hours, not in decades but in moments.

I think it was Ann Lamott that said we have to all make up our minds-- Is life too short to be minding shit, or is it too short to be taking it? Well, I've yet to decide which it is for me, but I do believe life is short regardless of what you pray for. So understand that things will be made more clear as time rolls along, but don't let fear stop you from praying with passion out of the depths of your right now.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The only John Waynes left in this town...

After work I took Jane on our fairly regular Saturday afternoon stroll down Austin to the Suspension Bridge and along the river. As we passed Heritage Square and rounded the Convention Center, with all the dressed up prom and wedding revelers of a typical spring weekend in Waco, I noticed the sound of music. Approaching University Parks Drive I remembered Britt telling me about Smoke on the River, an annual event put on by the Junior Chamber of Commerce to raise money for Habitat for Humanity.

It was near the end of the day and almost everyone had gone home. (Assuming anyone had been there to start with.) The band playing on the street was a relatively decent oldies and country group, singing a range of tunes from Elvis to Johnny Cash, Josh Turner to Don Williams. The day was beautiful and I assumed there would be a good crowd. As I got close I realized it was not. Other than the people walking their dogs and riding bikes around the river, there were eight people in the vicinity of the band. Eight, and one of them was the sound guy.

I thought about why the band chose to go on. Kyle and I used to joke that the only thing worse than no people showing up for a group meeting was just one or two people showing up. It's easier to just go home than to try to pretend that you aren't disappointed that more people didn't show. But this band kept on playing, and I think I know why.

I sat down on the curb to listen. The sun was bright, air cool. I was sitting on a curb in the middle of the city with my dog next to me, licking my face. Ashamed that I have never owned any alcohol-themed apparel, I have recently purchased a Miller Lite ball cap, which I was wearing this afternoon. I was feeling quite badass.

Then an elderly couple, probably in their early 70's, took the street to dance, diminishing the crowd of onlookers to just under a half-dozen. As they were sitting on their lawn chairs they seemed fragile, ready to break and just happy to be out of the house. But arm in arm, swinging and spinning to the music, they were as vibrant and alive as the teenagers in the Convention Center next door, horning it up to the loud beats of a washed-up D.J. It was this couple, in fact, who were the true badasses, taking to the dance floor of an empty street being inhabited by the music of a handful of middle aged band members who were playing just because they had the stage.

When the music ended, I clapped. I was the only one, but it didn't matter. It would be blasphemy not to recognize the genius that was occurring before my eyes.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Meeting David Wilson...

I just spent my Friday night watching Meeting David Wilson, which turned out to be an extremely moving documentary. I have nothing more to say, other than that I recommend it highly. It aired on MSNBC, a network that has a tendency to put repeats in heavy rotation, so if you see it rerunning, record it. It will be well worth your time.

www.meetingdavidwilson.com

Thursday, April 10, 2008

And they're always glad you came...

Everyone should have a place to go that they can never remember a time when they didn't go there. For me there are a few places that fit the bill, most notably the Brownsboro football stadium that hugs Hwy. 31 and deposits kicked field goals into oncoming traffic. The Lake kids have several, but my favorite to take them to is Mr. Snow on New Road in Waco. I can remember Kyle and Jen bringing the kids when Avery was barely two and Jude and Sutton were in baby carriers. The twins would be set up on a stool while Avery made her rounds, sampling everyone's flavors.

Today was the first day of the year I've had a chance to bring them. And I have pictures...



Monday, April 07, 2008

My Weekend...

"For no greater treasure could there be under any lock and key/ Than to be a beggar fully freed/ Poor in Paradise with Thee..."-- Margaret Becker.


I think it was the weather that did me in. I walked outside after a rough day at work on Saturday and stopped. Right there in the middle of the parking lot, I stopped. Seven in the evening, middle of spring, the air a perfect mixture of the remembrance of cool breezes and the anticipation of sun on the back of my neck, I said thanks, but no thanks.

A promotion that has passed me by several times is available again. I've wanted it, contemplated how much better it would be if I had it, and have become bitter every time I was denied it. For what? A few extra bucks and six-day workweeks during the holidays?

Hell no. I can eat bean soup for a few years longer.

The next day I found myself at Indian Spring park sitting on the grass, looking up. After taking communion toward the end of UBC's outdoor service, I sat next to Roy Carney, sound asleep in his stroller, as his parents went up receive communion themselves. In the sky were two small birds flying in random patterns, as if in play. I marveled at how HIGH they were, and then wondered why this surprised me. Birds fly high. Of all the things I should have learned by now, that is definitely one of them.

I'm not sure what significance that little bird story has, other than to let you know that there are things, very holy things, that I stopped noticing far too long ago.

Earlier, after a song was sung and we were sitting down, Keely Browning, nearly-three year old daughter of Blair and Jordan, decided that no, this song is most definitely NOT over. So she kept singing. Later, as we were milling around and with music playing over the speakers down by the river, Keely decided that whatever song was playing needed to be jumped to. So she jumped, and some of us joined in.

Sometimes I think the memory of Kyle is now like a ship finally out of reach. It is still fully visible, yet acceptance has set in that even the strongest swimmer will not be able to reach it. It moves out further by the day. We've all successfully (to varying degrees) reordered our lives without him in them. This has long since become, more or less, ok.

But occasionally we stop, turn around, and face the water. We see the waves lapping against the rocks on the banks of the Brazos and without actually saying it, we know Kyle would be laughing right now. Maybe, in some strange way, this is his laughter-- Taking communion to actively remember, with each other, the only One who truly gives life. Refusing to cease our singing even when the music has stopped, and jumping up and down when the music just simply requires it. Taking naps in the middle of full sunlight and eating lunch around the people who make your heart drive along just a little faster, ignoring the professional and social hoops that so many people think you should be jumping through in order to be "successful."

We stood, facing the water, and recited the words that I think have burrowed themselves deep into our being-- As we approach this week, may we Love God, Embrace Beauty, and Live Life to the Fullest. And who among us didn't believe that we were doing just that in those moments?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

So here's something.

Last night I was hanging out at the Dancing Bear because I'm cool and me and all the gang hang out there pretty much every night. Actually, this is not true, but I would love to be young and energetic enough to be a regular at this new treasure of a pub over by Baylor. But alas, this is not about the pub, which only serves as the setting for my neurosis.

We were there to celebrate Brian's birthday. (Brian, by the way, is young and energetic enough and I think he spends his life at this place.) We could have had a UBC community group right there, for all flow of parishioners who were walking in through the doors. So it was me and church people and other acquaintances that I have picked up through the years and the guys from Dutton, those up-and-coming future Christian Worship Superstars, of which Brian is one.

I, being one of the oldest people in the place by quite a few years, decided I need to get home, so I ask for the check. Logan, frontman for aforementioned up-and-coming future Christian Worship Superstars, asked if he could have a ride home. I said yes and then my first thought was "Oh. Shit. What do I have in my CD player?" I honestly couldn't remember and was terrified that it would be something unacceptable and honestly thought for a split second of telling Logan that I changed my mind, he in fact could not catch a ride with me because I did not feel we were far enough along in our friendship for that.

So that was seriously the funniest story that came out of an otherwise dreary weak.

Oh, and for the record: Keith Urban's Love, Pain, and the Whole Crazy Thing, which received the Dutton seal of approval.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

About once a year I get the opportunity to make some of my fellow book-loving friends jealous because of my position as a bookseller. The catalyst for this is the fact that publishers occasionally send Advanced Reader copies of a book several weeks before it comes out. Usually the book is junk, but every now and then something will come in that I really want to read. I've been waiting for four years for this...



Sunday, March 30, 2008

U.S. Highway 64...

The stretch of Highway 64 that connects Tyler to Henderson is probably only thought of for two things by those who do not reside near it. Texas History buffs will know it because of its proximity to New London, which was the location of the worst school catastrophe in U.S. history when a gas leak caused an explosion that killed almost 300 students. On a lighter note, fans of Miranda Lambert will recognize one of the highway's numerous small municipalities, Turnertown. In her song "Famous in a Small Town," she puts off going to Nashville because of her being the first one to shoot a buck during deer season. It was such an event she made the front page of the Turnertown Gazette. (I haven't done any extensive research, but I'm quite sure this is a fictional newspaper. Turnertown is the home of a gas station, antique store, an old dilapidated garage, and not much else.)

For me, U.S. Highway 64 will always be about this man:


I've been riding or driving along this stretch of road for my entire life. My grandparents lived in Carthage, which required a trip down 64 before you were deposited onto U.S. 79. Much of the East Texas of my childhood has changed. The downtown buildings in Chandler have been destroyed and all around town sterile metal buildings housing Dollar Stores and Wash-a-terias are popping up. Tyler and the other towns are hardly recognizable. But this bit of highway has been largely untouched.

Wendy Bounds, in the book Little Chapel on the River that I have raved about for the better part of a year stated that it seemed as if Corporate Society began knocking on the door of Garrison (home to the Little Chapel,) and Garrison said very politely "Thanks, but no thanks."

As I was driving the backroads last week I saw this man plowing the fields. I imagined living his life, going to and fro on that machine for probably over half a century. He was oblivious that some punk wanting to recapture a (perhaps largely fictional) past was taking his picture.

I probably couldn't handle his way of life, and he would most likely say "Thanks, but no thanks" to mine. And yes, I hear all the naysayers screaming that I'm romanticizing a Rockwellian society that probably never existed. I largely agree. But something about standing there, thinking about how this man may go to bed worried about the future, the upcoming Texas summer and his inability to make as good a return on his work than what he once did. But how at the end of all that, he at least knew that he left it all on the table and that there is no shame in being where you are-- That made me appreciate Highway 64 just a bit more.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Time Off..

I decided to jot down some thoughts while I was on vacation. I wrote them in word so it would all be one thing when I posted it. Because of the cut/paste thing, some of the formatting may be screwed a bit. Forgive me. Oh, and I didn't proof it either.

Thanks to everyone this past week who fed me, provided a bed, and shared your time. But most of all, thank you for your love. I don't know anyone luckier than me to be cared for and loved by the greatest people on earth.

________________________________________________________

Sunday March 23, 2008—Easter
2:41 p.m.

We call it vacation, the Europeans call in holiday. While I’ll openly mock and laugh out loud at any American who calls time off from work “holiday,” I have to say that there is something special about that designation. Vacation is so empty. Vacate. Vacating the premises. Nothing more than absence from a particular place.

But holiday has magic surrounding it. It implies that every minute away from work is a minute present with some holiness that is “out there,” just waiting to be caught and bathed in.

I’m about to vacate the premises of this town I love so much, for a short while. I’ve deserved it. Around two of the roughest years of my life were spent staying in a job just so I can make it to the five-year mark and earn an extra week of vacation. And damn it, I’m taking it.

I just got back from Easter lunch with UBC family. I’m about to hit the road to Tyler to hang out with my friends the Herrings and will worship with them and the folks over at Soma. Then the road will lead further northeast, then back to Dallas.

May the moments be filled with the presence of God. May laughter surround me, tears be a fleeting reminder that the needle on the compass is always leading me home, and the music in my ears an echo of that other place, where all those I love are awaiting my return.

Monday March 24, 2008
10:55 a.m.

Last night I rolled into Tyler just in time to worship with the people at Soma. They are in a new building and it was something of a next step for them. I had a great time.

Marvin was there and I got to visit with him a bit. Hoping to catch up later in the week when I’m in Dallas. Marvin is the director of Lifewalk Discipleship School in Grand Prairie. I also ran into Kenny who is Marvin’s age and who, along with his wife, heads up a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating child trafficking around the world. It’s hard to believe that these kids I taught from 7th grade are now leading ministries of their own.

I stayed with Tony and Melissa and their boys after church. I’m so happy that over the past couple of years the Herrings have moved beyond being my “Christmas friends,” to friends I see much more often. These people know what life is about and I always feel a little more awake when I’m around them.

Now I head further east. Carthage is my first destination. I try to make it there about once a year to visit the gravesite of my grandparents. From there, I’ll head to Atlanta to see Robert.
On the road my music has been U2’s Joshua Tree and Gary Allan’s Living Hard.

Tuesday March 25, 2008
4:41p.m.

I left Atlanta early this afternoon and made a deliberate decision to stay on the backroads as much as possible. The green in East Texas right now is a green that will jump out at you.

On one stretch of road it was just me, rolling hills, and cattle for miles. Not familiar with the road, I didn’t know how long it would be until a place to stop. Needing to relieve myself, I pulled over, walked to the barbed wire, and did my business. I will not lie to you—there are few things in the world more liberating than taking a whiz on a sunny spring day on a lonely stretch of East Texas highway.

I am now in Greenville and will be visiting with my old friends Tracey and Greg Fields and Jason Sturgeon. I am anticipating much laughter.

Wednesday March 26, 2008
11:46a.m.

I’m finally in a sit-still place. The rest of my week will be here in the DFW. I’m working on coordinating meals and visits interspersed with some rest and relaxation.

Last night with the Fields and Sturgeons was a wonderful time. It’s always good to renew friendships that time has been walled up due to time. I wish everyone who is a part of my life could meet Greg and Tracey. They have the grace of noise, humor, peace, and care floating in and out of their lives and I am always blessed to be in their presence, regardless of how long the distance is between visits.

It’s been way over ten years since I’ve seen Jason Sturgeon, and, as I expected, he made me laugh as hard now as he did then.

I’m staying with Jason and Christy, who are at work right now. I’m at the Lincoln Park Barnes and Noble catching up on email and just trying to relax a bit. I think I’m going to see a movie this afternoon.

Thursday March 27, 2008
11:58p.m.

Had dinner with a great group of people who work with Jason and Christy. It was a good way to begin wrapping up the week. Earlier I went to Grand Prairie to visit Marvin and see where he works.

I’m tired, but this trip has been worth it. A veritable parade of many of the people who have helped shape my life in profound ways.

Tomorrow Casey is coming into Waco for her yearly visit with friends. We have lunch plans.

Friday March 28, 2008
8:10a.m.

I threw last nights entry in just to get something down before the day ended. When I went to bed I realized I left out the time I got to spent with Brent, who is the friend I have been close to the longest of any in my life. Over 17 years. I have more to say about that later.

About to head out and have breakfast with Jason before I make my way back to Waco.

Tonight I’ll have dinner with the Duke’s and the Carney’s.

Saturday March 29, 2008

Today has been my decompression day. I have seen so many people over so many days. And I could have seen more. After sending out a message that I would be in towns, I received a flood of calls and emails wanting to meet up. Unfortunately timing required me to shuffle things around and some people I really wanted to get together with got pushed to the side. I hate that.

Regardless, the week off has been great.

If the sitcom Friends had any contribution to social commentary it’s this—That we create family out of those who, by accident of birth and circumstance, just happen to be around. And somehow by learning to interact and share and love these people, in the process we discover who we are.

I’ve been thinking about the great time over beer I had with Brent. Our friendship is the longest I’ve ever been a part. In many ways I believe it has survived against all odds. I have learned that the people we were close to when we were younger often bear the brunt of all that is bad about our having to learn how to be friends. Our teenage friendships are like the training wheels of life. They help us get our bearings, our confidence, and show us (by much trial and error) what balance is all about. But they also often get beat up and discarded and we only pull them back out when we want to take a trip of nostalgia. I have been blessed to have a friend in Brent that has weathered all that (thanks to much forgiveness on his part) and has come out on the adult side of life a vintage model of the past—but that still works.

I came home to the love of a strange city known mostly for it’s association with a big fire over a decade ago. Most of us in this place have no connection to that incident, but we often find ourselves warmed in the presence of those who know how to take the rusted scraps lying in waste and make them something beautiful. Last night I arrived just in time for a meal with the people who have strangely become my people. We hovered over strong margaritas and good food, our laughter a subtle reminder of the buoyancy of shared lives. I love these times, if for no other reason than that Roy Carney gets passed around like a hot potato and gets to breathe the sweet smells of love that is chosen.

I also made it home yesterday in time for lunch with Casey O’Dell, a friend from college who is a part of the gang of people at ETBU that I speak of often. Casey lives in the Netherlands with her husband Jerome. She comes back to Texas about once a year and I always am happy to have seen her.

I always rely on my time off to give me a sense of calm in the midst of the busy-ness of life in corporate America. It always does, for a moment. I'm hoping the shalom lasts a bit longer this time around.

Tomorrow I will work on cleaning up around here, getting ready to return to real life. These have been holy days.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Quote...

I got an email from a friend at a church in Waco this morning, and loved this quote. I've never considered dragging Easter on like we drag out Christmas. I'm hoping to do that this week...to linger on Easter.

Easter happens every day. Easter happens each time those who mourn rise up again to honor those they've lost by loving life more dearly. Easter happens every time we stand in solidarity with those who've lost all hope and say, "Hold on, we're at your side." And Easter happens every time, in spite of woe and death, in spite of the multitude of ways we've turned away, in spite of our failures and denials, we say "yes" to life." -- Rob Ellers Isaac

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Craig Supertramp...

It's my day off, and I just spent a few hours of it watching Into the Wild while having a Marie Callender's pot pie and some Ben&Jerry's Birthday Cake Ice Cream. I enjoyed the movie much more than I had planned. I think if I had seen the movie while younger, I may have become a wanderer. Oh, you know I'm kidding. I would have left civilization only after gathering the addresses and phone numbers of my two hundred closest friends and promising that I'd call every night. Then after a couple of miles of walking (again, hyperbole-- would probably have been about a couple of hundred yards,) I would begin to miss everyone and would show back up for dinner.

But I do believe in going Into the Wild to find yourself. As a matter of fact, I'm about to do this myself. After tackling the mountain of dishes waiting to be washed in my sink, I will take Jane for a long walk down Austin Avenue, past the Austin Arms apartments, in the shadow of the crosses of a half-dozen churches and inner-city missions (it really is a half-dozen...I counted them last week,) I will then cross over the treacherous Brazos (via the suspension bridge) and head back home. Maybe I will have found myself when I return. Or maybe I'll just get a good tan on my rapidly expanding forehead.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Election Day...

This morning I was Barack-ing the Vote with the very hot Kate "Addison Montgomery Sheperd" Walsh, of Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice fame.




Last night I was hanging out with a few hundred of my Republican brethren and sistren at a rally for John McCain.




You may think this is unbecoming. Perhaps, in your mind, I care more about celebrity than the state of our country. Sure, you say, we should change the tone in politics, but we can't be supporting one candidate one evening and another the next morning just because we have been in love with one of his supporters since the moment she walked into Seattle Grace and proclaimed to Meredith "And I'm guessing you're the one who's been screwing my husband."

My only response to this is a very loud and resounding... Yes We Can.

Yes...We...Can...

Monday, March 03, 2008

Oh...My...God...

After WHAT I JUST READ, I feel like a teenager again.

And guess where the Obama headquarters are located? Right behind my house.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Like, Whoa...

I don't agree with the assertions of the Clinton camp, (and the future, as yet to be articulated assertions of the McCain camp) that Obama's charismatic style means he has no substance. This is a convenient argument that is probably meant to give middle-aged and elderly voters enough reason not to vote for him.

With that aside, I do appreciate THIS ARTICLE by Kathleen Parker on the religious fervor of the Obamaniacs. I think I've always been an old soul, which explains my cynicism toward youthful fervor. I'm not saying it's a virtue, just that it's there.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Southpaw...

Of all the historic things about this election, the one thing that I noticed about tonight's Democratic debate was at the end. When Obama and Clinton were signing autographs I realized that Barack is left-handed. This excited me as I, too, am a part of the blessed few who know about ink stained pinky fingers and the injustices of where rings and spirals are placed on notebooks.

My intrigue caused me to do a little research. What I found was astounding. Of all the presidents who have been in office during my lifetime-- Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush-- only two were NOT left handed. The two you ask? Carter and W. Bush, considered by many to be the two worst, if not the two most unpopular during their terms.

The moral? While many factors are in play, you should always lean toward the lefty.

Oh, by the way... John McCain is left-handed as well:)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Come Home...

We stand among those who look an awful lot like ourselves. The wind is gusting heavily in that country cemetary surrounded by towering pines and overlooking rolling hills, but we all linger a bit longer. The funeral has ended and we are left with just ourselves.

Most of my cousins, living in relative nearness to each other, have stories and feuds to be resolved and inside jokes. I envy them for this. They will say goodbye and it will be something different than when I say goodbye. I try to make up for years of being on the margins of my family by striking up conversations and telling people to visit me when they are down my way.

Our mothers and fathers were each one of nine siblings. The oldest brother has just passed away, leaving six still alive.

Joe, who along with myself is among the youngest of all the 27 first cousins, in his lilting East Texas accent asks a question that takes me by surprise. "Do you think you'll ever come back?" He could mean anything, but I know what he means. And he is the only family outside my parents who ever actually broaches the subject.

My mind goes in several places at the same time, and I think you know where this is going.

Is home about the heart or about the hat?

In the moment of the question I realize that I could come back. I can always come back.

I also realize that this will be something that follows me throughout my life, whether I stay or leave. At the end of my journey there will always be at least one or two other places where I imagine how things would have turned out if I would have been there instead of where I ended up.

I am here and I am there. I am in a chair on Washington Avenue in a city in the middle of Texas. I am standing on the football field in a nerdy band uniform at the end of a performance, and I think this is as good as it will ever get. I sit across from Kyle and we are laughing at the fact that he is enjoying a happy hour margarita just minutes before a meeting at church. In an old church house on Kreutzwaldi street in Tartu, for the first time I stand in a new world, a wholly different place. In an apartment on a campus I am laughing with a new group of friends who are strategizing to change the world. I'm even standing in a cemetary surrounded by towering pines overlooking rolling hills in the midst of gusting winds.

And in this moment, I am home.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Avenue...

I walk my dog Jane almost daily down Austin Avenue. Sometimes I go away from downtown so I can pass the old 28th street house and remember how cool it was living in that area. Usually though, I walk into downtown. I think I'm going to keep doing it because I've developed a good waving relationship with a lot of wonderful people. At least, I'm guessing they are wonderful. They definitely have great waves. I think they really like Jane. Most of the homeless people love her and are always telling me how beautiful she is. I tell them thank you and then realize how crazy that is, since I had nothing to do with how beautiful she ended up.

There's a million interesting things about downtown. You can learn a lot about a town based on the places where people no longer are, but where they are hoped to be soon. Did you know there is a law office in town run by a guy named Scott Peterson? Weird. I also found out from a campaign sign that the Sheriff in McLennan County is a man named Larry Lynch. Now, for a town so obviously struggling and trying to find redemption from it's racist pass, shouldn't we think twice before electing someone with that last name? I don't know, just thinking.

And here's my last little tidbit about downtown. One of the numerous antique stores has two life size cardboard cutout posters of Michael Jackson and Barbara Mandrell in its front window. Talk about random. Usually when I pass Mike and Barbs I pretend like I am saying hi to them, but I don't actually do it less anyone think I need help. I also imagine conversations they have with each other at night when the lights go out. One plays out in such a way that I can't share here because it would be the most innapropriate thing I've ever written. (It is a play off of one of her songs and certain allegations directed toward him.)

So anyway, since I've slowed down my blog activity, I thought I'd share some random downtown thoughts. Hope things are well with you all.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Viral Video...

Jason sent this to me. Men, you'd better watch it and heed the words of the Lord.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

More Jayber...

Last night I spoke at a church about books. I was asked to share things that I'd been reading, things that have meant a lot to me, and lead an open ended discussion. I was happy to do it, not knowing how much I would thoroughly enjoy the experience. The church was one of a handful of moderate to left leaning Baptist churches in the area, and full of some extremely intelligent people. (I don't believe, as many, that the two always go together.)

I talked about Jayber Crow. After the meeting, a sweet middle aged woman came up to me and told me how much the book had meant to her husband. After a good two minute conversation she grabbed the book from me and found a quote and read it to me. I remember reading what she read, but felt as if she was reading this to me, in some sort of prophetic manner. (Creepy, I know.) Here's the passage, hope you enjoy it...

If you could do it, I suppos, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line-- starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King's Highway past appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not hte way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circle or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led--make of that what you will.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Warmed...

I'm working on something but haven't had uninterrupted time to write it for several days.

In the meantime, I should go all Oprah on you and share with you one of my favorite things. On my way back from a day in Dallas hanging out with my friend Jason, I stopped off at the most holy of restaurants, the Waffle House. On the menu is a pie referred to simply as "Pecan Pie." However, if you know the secret workings of the Waffle House culture (as I have spent many years mastering,) then you know there is a method of preparing said pie that will bring you to the threshold of paradise. Simply ask for the pie to be warmed.

Warmed Pecan Pie at the Waffle House is not thrown in the microwave for twenty seconds and then thrown on a plate. Warmed isn't put in the oven or even just taken out of the refrigerator for an extended period of time. No, when the geniuses at the Waffle House warm pecan pie, they place it on the griddle. They then proceed to drop a few dollops of butter on top of the pie, then place a domed lid over it. And this is warmed. Pecan pie simmering in a sauna with pure butter-steam penetrating every pore.

Yes my friends, this is one of my favorite things.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Pictures...

One of my close friends, who is about the best gift-giver there is, has made it possible for me to share pictures with you. I spent the afternoon getting the Lake kids ready for karate and gymnastics. I bribed them with letting them watch Nickelodeon, and spent the time taking their pictures...



Since he was a baby, Jude has always fidgeted his fingers around while they are held up near his chest. It's involuntary cuteness.




Avery gets stopped in public constantly by people telling her how much they like her glasses. Like a little lady she says "Thank you." One time when this happened and the person walked away, she looked at me and said "People ALWAYS say that."



Watching the Fairly Odd Parents, Sutton cannot be distracted. He is the ultimate thinker, always pondering what is right in front of him.