Sunday, May 17, 2009

For Everett, Boone, Lillian, Emmy and Miller...

Several months ago eight year old Avery Lake told me she remembered being in her mom's belly. Intrigued, I asked "You do? What was that like?" Without skipping a beat she replied "VERY bloody."

My memory is not quite as long as Avery alleges hers to be, but there are some remnants from my late-babyhood that linger. The Buddy Holly Greatest Hits 8-Track that my family listened to in that red Ford Mercury. Walking along the sidewalk of Tuckers General Store during the Chandler Centennial celebration, where Ernest Tubb performed on the trailer down by the train tracks and several years before the downtown buildings burned down and were demolished. But the most vivid and numerous of these memories are from the inside of the little tan brick building on 3rd Street that held the congregation of First Baptist Church.

In that place we were free to roam. Of course we had to be in our classes when they began and in church on time, but in the in-between times, the building was ours. This was a different time and place, of course, where all parents assumed that every adult in the church was keeping an eye on the children and would keep them from harm and discipline them if they saw fit. It took a village, if you will.

But back to memories. It's strange the things you remember. What I remember most from those early years in church are the patterns on all the surfaces. The cheap linoleum in the nursery was cream colored with precise puzzle-piece type sections that probably originated from an early 70's drug induced creative streak of some floor manufacturer. The tile on the ceiling were perfect squares, suitable for counting when the church service became boring. The upholstery in the pews was solid red and had minuscule diamond patterns that would embed in your hands if you sat on them long enough.

These memories are random, but they are mine. They tell the story of a kid that always had a home aside from the one where he laid his head at night.

In conversation with someone a couple of weeks ago, a younger person who has many friends at UBC, I came to an epiphany-- No one at UBC, my church, ever feels like they really ever completely belong. Some of us who mostly sit on the side, us "older folk," can feel alienated from the language and emphases that are zeroed in like a missile on the life of a college student. Those in the center, though, see the way the older people walk the halls with confidence, familiarity, and a sense of permanence, can feel that, since they are transient and we are not, then the church belongs to us.

Though at home, we all can feel like exiles.

This morning we dedicated five babies. It was beautiful. The parents promised to raise their child after the way of Christ, said a personalized prayer, and then the church promised also to be family to these babies and to model Christian love in their lives. When that part of the service was over and the parents took their children back to the nursery, a little smile began to slowly form on my face as the realization formed-- Some people in the building today felt they completely belonged. Of course, and I guess this is the irony, they can't articulate all that this entails. They aren't in conversation with each other about the direction or lack thereof with the church. It really doesn't matter to them who is preaching and none of them are there because of who sings on Sunday morning. (Well, I guess technically Emmy Parker is.)

All they know is that sometime in the course of the morning they will be fed, played with, passed around by scores of people patiently waiting their turns, and may even sneak a nap in when they feel like it. Later they will hear songs that tell of God's extravagant love and the ancient stories of sin, sacrifice and redemption that reverberate into the narratives of our lives.

They will also notice the surfaces. The grainy-colored carpet they play on in the nursery. The corrugated tin that lines the hallways. Standing on stage, if they looked up, they could see the painting of the Last Supper.

As adults they will tell stories of that place. The surfaces, the people, the stories. And hopefully, they will say that there has never been a time when they didn't belong. To this church, yes, but also to the God that became a baby so we could all become children again.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


A little over a year ago I began to consider returning to seminary. I had figured out that moving forward in my current career would require me becoming a person I wasn't willing to become. Before that point I assumed that if I was ever going to do vocational ministry it would come from stumbling into it in nontraditional ways. When I realized that wasn't going to happen, I decided to heed the gentle nudging of the Holy Spirit that came from passing comments of several close friends. Returning to Truett felt right, if a little scary. I was well past the point of asking my parents for financial help, so I spent the past year working and going to shcool full time.

Punching in and out of work, studying for Greek, writing papers, all while balancing a new set of friends with my Waco friends has been equal parts exhilarating and exhausting. It ended for the summer with my final class on Monday. Yesterday me and some of my new friends took a "Daycation" down to south-central Texas. The biggest chunk of the day was spent floating in tubes down the Guadalupe River. This is the week when some Texas universities are in final exams and some have just finished, so there was a decent smattering of people in the water, but not enough to make it miserable. The weather was perfect and the sun shining.

On the water I was in and out of brief moments of sleep. Occasionally I would wake up near a cluster of frat guys engaging in some of the most vulgar talk I've ever witnessed. I found it quite amusing. I'll spare you the specific language used, but it involved names of girls the guys had been with as freshman and how they wish they could be with them again after four years of practice.

Another conversation ending in this sentence-- "I can't stand that chick. She not only divided our pledge class, but the entire fraternity as well!"

It was everything I could not to snicker. Instead I paddled away into less crowded territory.

I woke up again startled. There was no one near me. I looked up disoriented because I couldn't figure out where I was. I asked my friends if I was ahead of them or if they were ahead of me. It was the latter, so I paddled with my arms some more.

Several times I woke up in still water and decided not to work my way out.

There were rapids over low rocks. This was a pain because it required a decision-- Do I stand up and walk over the rocks (a prospect that was sure to cause humorous stumbling both because of the uneven surfaces and the decent amount of beer in my system at the time,) do I struggle with my arms and feet to push myself out, or do I just sit there like the beached whale I felt like at the time, hoping a swift enough current would pull me where I needed to be. I honestly couldn't tell you which one I chose, but I guess it was a hybrid of all three because I eventually found my way out.

Toward the end of the three hour adventure, Jake and I were the only ones left in the water. Chris and Josh were about fifty yards ahead of us, at the end. I tried to make the experience last. Closing my eyes I thought back through the past year. I've made new friends, learned new things, and in small ways become a new person. Yet I'm still essentially me, with the same hang-ups, virtues, vices, and general trajectory of life.

Opening my eyes to the fractured sunbeams coming through the tall cypress trees, I realized why the river has been such a powerful tool used by poets and novelists alike-- It contains everything and, in some strange way, goes to everything. I considered how the last three hours was what it is like to follow God in the way of Christ. It all begins by simply being in the water and ends on that distant shore. In between, though, is the stuff of life. Much of the trip requires hard paddling that will make your arms sore the next day. There are rocks that come along that require a little creativity, decision making, and luck. Discerning God's will for your life sometimes requires you to be shot in directions you don't want to be shot in. Other times, however, you have to be willing to be stuck for what can seem like an eternity. This is what is hard for many people.

Today I bear the scars of the rocks, the soreness from the paddling, and the color from the sun. But mostly I bear the smiles that come from the people in my life willing to float alongside me, and the God of the great river that is taking me home.