Thursday, September 20, 2012

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


When you go looking for community, be careful. It may find you. -- Bill Leonard

On July 1, 2000 I packed my little red car with all my belongings and drove from Marshall, TX to Waco, TX, passing through most of the East Texas towns that I had become familiar with over the previous 25 years. The thing I remember most about that day is that it was hot. An interesting thing about Texans is that we rarely pretend it isn't hot when it is. Go to Alaska when it is 20 degrees outside and the Alaskans will try to convince you that it is not really that cold. Go to Texas in 100 degree heat and we will tell you-- It is hot.

On that day, it was hot.

I suppose I had no reason to believe a move to Waco would be any different than the moves I had made during the previous years. After college I made it a habit to move to a new place about once a year, with every intention of that new place becoming a permanent home. But none of them ever stuck, so I moved on to "greener pastures."

After a few short weeks in Waco I had the distinct impression that I would continue to be on the move. People here were strange. The job I was in was vastly different than the exact same position I held previously at another place. Friends who had come here at the same time, but for different reasons, began to separate and make lives for themselves in their respective corners of this medium-sized city. That summer was more than just hot. It was miserable.

Then in August of that year things were put into motion that would prove to be watershed moments in my life. A friend found a particular church and told me about it. I remember the moment he brought a sheet of paper with the church's values and mission statement on it to my apartment to show me. He said he really thought I should check it out. So I did, and I am glad I did. Later that week I met the pastor of the church who quickly became one of my closest friends.

This city, however, remained strange. I bounced around between jobs and seminary and short-but-excruciating stints of unemployment. Were it not for my burgeoning love for, and involvement in, that church over on Dutton Avenue, I probably would have bolted. But I stayed. The gravitational pull of this place pulled me in and held me close. The odd things about this city ceased to be odd to me. Or perhaps the oddness began to seep into my pores until I no longer saw it as odd. Quirky became normal.

Of course there was an elderly black man who may or may not think he is the president who walks down the street waving at everyone he sees.

Of course North means East and South means West.

Of course there are Mexican/Chinese restaurants, as well as dives called "Health Camp" that have absolutely nothing healthy on their menu.


I ended up at a job that was sometimes meaningful, even joyful, other times a living-hell. Yet all the time it was a hub of the city that brought people from all geographic, social, and economic corners of Waco to one place, around books. I met JoAnn, who probably lived life a little too fully in the 1960's, and Dorothy, the widow of a missionary from Japan who expected me to hug her when she expressed anger at her husband leaving so early. I became good friends with Rodeo Steve, so named because of his past as a cowboy. Steve is approaching 70 and doesn't look a day over 45, and is deeply in love with Mickey. I was the officiant at their wedding. Then there was the cranky old lawyer who had an insatiable appetite for very specific types of erotica, as well as the old Baylor professor who died of lung cancer and would break out into poetry whenever she pleased. The broken people who fill the pages of Chekhov and O'Connor began to fill the pages of my own life.

These people became my home.

Then those of us who had come here together, yet had grown apart, began to find each other again. It was as if we had been separated, on our own journeys of discovery, and had returned to tell about what we had found, and also about how much we missed each other.

And that church continued to wedge its way into my life as I wedged my way into it. Life was lived, energy was created, and tragedy hit, leaving us without the pastor and friend who I had become so close to years before. But we continued to find each other in many ways-- through conflict, tears, beer, the Bible, and the general passing of time.

I returned to school and began to feel young again. New possibilities emerged. New friendships developed. A sense of calm slowly returned after years of grieving the loss of my friend. The hole was still there, but it became less raw, easier to navigate around. What seemed inevitable was that my time in this city I had grown to love was slowly coming to an end, as it isn't wise to spend time and money on a seminary degree if you aren't prepared to explore your calling wherever it may lead.

But the calling was closer than I suspected. That church that I had walked alongside for years asked me to be with them a little longer, and I accepted. And I sit here now, on the eve of my tenth year in this place, thankful. It's really all I can be. Ten years is a long time, and yet I still feel so young. There are corners of this city, people in these neighborhoods, who are yet to be discovered. I've got time.

When you go looking for community, be careful. It may find you.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Five Dollar Blog...

I will be blogging a lot in February, but not at my old blog, nor at Facebook, but here at The Five Dollar Blog. Check it out.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Trouble with your Merry Christmas...

They are not wearing uniforms, but if you look close enough you can spot the guerrilla soldiers in the supposed "Christmas Wars" from a great distance. They are lurking in lines at retail outlets, municipal offices, and educational institutions at this very moment. Some wait for the evil "Happy Holidays" to be uttered by the person behind the desk. Others execute a sneak attack and confidently get their "Merry CHRIStmas" out before the poor souls waiting to help them even knew what hit them. Although the tactics may differ, their mission is singular: Save the baby Jesus from liberal, politically correct commies who want to destroy Christmas once and for all.

This afternoon I ran into an old acquaintance at the grocery store. It seems we run into each other about once a year, usually around Christmas. She and I were students at Truett during my first attempt to return to school a few years ago. She is now a pastor out in Crawford and things are going extremely well for both her and her family. Our interaction was brief, but I was rejuvenated by the constant gentleness that seems to always be flowing out of her. That is "Merry Christmas."

This week I have been trying to rest. I just finished a difficult semester. Stepping down from working full time has been quite a change, and I have loved my new position, even if it can be frightening at times. At the end of the semester I got to show off my adopted home town and family of rag-tags to the author of one of my favorite books and, in the process, made new friends. That week was capped off with a party of old friends that revealed the clich├ęd truth that we were all made to be with each other. That is “Merry Christmas.”

A couple of weeks ago after church, in my friend and pastor Josh's office, there was a crowd of people. Bennett Gamel, the new baby we had been praying for since his complicated birth a few months prior revealed that he suffers from Cystic Fibrosis, had made it to the first church service of his young, fragile life. Everyone wanted to get a peak and to hug the proud parents. In the service that day we dedicated three more babies—Aiden, Walter, and RC. The whole Sunday was one of those special once-in-a-while moments where you get a small glimpse of what that baby in a manger meant: Heaven had met Earth and somehow we were given the gift of witnessing it. For a moment Josh and I caught each other's glance and we shared a smile of recognition that needed no verbalization. That is “Merry Christmas.”

So to all of you warriors for Christmas, do us all a favor. Relax. If a cashier at a national retail chain obeys instructions that are meant to welcome people who do not celebrate Christmas and perkily wishes you a “Happy Holidays,” does this destroy Christmas? (I won’t even mention what should be obvious to everyone about the meaning of the word “Holiday…) And do you think Jesus needs a display of his birth on taxpayer funded land in order to do what he has been doing for over two thousand years, captivating the hearts of humanity and changing lives and societies?

Your obnoxious “Merry Christmas” is not a Merry Christmas at all. It is a hand grenade thrown across an imaginary battle line. That does nothing to further the message of that silent night so long ago. So if your Merry Christmas is not heartfelt, try a genuine "Happy Holidays" instead. It may do you some good.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Advent Day Three...

This has been one of the busiest days in one of the busiest weeks of my year. Yet, strangely, it has not felt that way. I had plenty of time to feed my new addiction-- computer chess, play with my dog and marvel at how quirky she has become, and even get work done and make a few people laugh along the way. It's been a good day.

Plus, in researching for a talk I am giving tomorrow, I ran across a million great advent quotes. Here is one...

"Luke's Gospel account of the Christmas event is full of activity…And yet, in the middle of the frenetic action, here is this woman wrapped in mystical silence…She demonstrates the necessity of a quiet place within ourselves at Christmastime—that place where we are most ourselves in relation to God.

"It is a place of silence, not because it is untouched by all the activity of our lives, but because it is capable of wonder. Every prayer begins with silent wonder before it turns to words. Our first response to God is dumbstruck awe at who he is and what he has done for us."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent Day Two...

It's easy to wait when your days are full.
Not really waiting at all.
Just letting the days come at will.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent, Day 1...

I spent yesterday doing work around the house. The yard was mowed, back porch cleaned up a bit, front bushes were clipped and the Christmas lights went up. When darkness was near, the last strand was put in place. It isn't much, but it is something. Plugging in the final product, I looked at my poor, eclectic and sometimes dangerous little street and I had this thought-- I'm glad the holidays in my neighborhood look more like A Charlie Brown Christmas than Christmas in Rockefeller Center. As I went into the house chuckling at the meagerness of my outdoor decorating ability one of the young kids from next door yelled out, "Hey Mister. It looks perfect!"

When you drive by here, you will quickly realize it is most definitely not perfect. It isn't really even that good.

I just arrived home from church. It is the Sunday after Thanksgiving, which means we meet at night to give travelers time to get back to Waco from their visits home. It is also the first Sunday of Advent, which means we begin to think about hope and expectancy. About waiting. Waiting for something better. Waiting for something new and different and more invigorating than the lives we have found ourselves stuck in.

In the service there were babies crying, technical malfunctions, and, if you ask me, a slight hint of healthy melancholy mixed in with the joy we knew we should all be feeling at that moment. It was much more Charlie Brown than Rockefeller Center which, to me, looked just about perfect.