Thursday, March 30, 2006

If you remember I had a friend tell me I should spend time alone with God. Well, it looks like that time has come. I'm leaving tomorrow for a couple of days alone among the Cypress trees and moss of beautiful Caddo Lake State Park. I am really looking forward to it. I mentioned before that I have not had any time off since the beginning of last August, and I am long overdue. I'm bringing some food, a tent, a few books (right now I'm leaning toward Nouwen's The Way of the Heart, Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, and something fictional yet to be determined,) and my new Moleskine journal I purchased because it's what all the cool people are doing. Much relaxation will be had.

I'll then spend Monday through Wednesday in Atlanta with Jason and Christy and then head back later Wednesday. So there will be no blogging from Craig for the next few days.

In the meantime here's some little tidbits in the form of bullet points:

-- Tom has a serious collection of music stored on his computer that I use to write. It's really my only exposure to good non-radio music. Over the past few days I've become an Indigo Girls fan. Those chicks leave me breathless with their powerful lyrics and phrasing.

-- I purchased a six-pack of Shiner for my trip today and the check-out lady stared at me like I was a teenager trying to get away with something. She told me she'd need to see my id, at which point she acted shocked that I was as old as I am. I think she may have been flirting with me. But I don't recognize when that happens, so who knows?

-- I just got back from Jen Lake's birthday party at Ninfa's and I'm stuffed. She's finally caught up to me at 31.

-- Speaking of Jen... When she closed on the new house a couple of weeks ago the first thing she went out and purchased was a trampoline. After work on Tuesday I went over and spend the better part of an hour on that thing jumping with the kids. SO MUCH FUN!!! I can't remember the last time I've had that much fun. I had friends with trampolines as a kid, but I never wanted on them. (Fat kid issues.) But I was jumping like a muh fuh the other day and man was it rad. My thighs are still sore.

-- That's about all I've got for now. Don't trash my web-space while I'm away, but feel free to use the comments as a message board. You can discuss the wonderful attributes of me all you want. You can include how defined my calves are (which Nathan so embarrasingly informed me today,) your favorite shirt I've ever worn, why you miss the television show Ed, and generally how much you'll miss me while I'm away.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Surprise Me...

On Wednesday, October 26 I had lunch with Kyle, Ben, and Jamie at church. They had begun to make a common practice of this and I joined them from time to time. We ate in the room upstairs and watched an episode each of My Name is Earl and The Office. When we were done we headed downstairs, everyone to their respective offices and I to Kyle's. I was preaching at the HUB that night. He told me earlier in the day he'd like to talk through what I was speaking about. But, as was normally the case, he didn't really care to hear anything about it other than that I would promise to keep it short. (I can be a little long winded I've heard.) After I gave my word that it would be around fifteen minutes (it ended up being over 25) he told me he wanted my opinion on something he was thinking about doing.

He handed me a book by Terry Esau titled Surprise Me. He told me Esau's daughter went to UBC and had spoken with him about the book, which is basically the author's journal after he decided to take it upon himself to pray a simple prayer every morning, "Surprise Me, God," and to journal the experience for forty days. He was encouraging church communities to do the same. Kyle told me he was thinking about doing this and wanted to know what I thought. The plan was to have the UBC community individually pray the prayer at the beginning of every day, and to keep our eyes open to God's work in our lives. We would then have a community blog where we could journal our thoughts.

Because so many churches were latching on to "The Forty Days of Purpose," based on The Purpose Driven Life, I was a little hesitant. But skimming through Esau's book I realized this was something totally different. It seemed as if he had absolutely no agenda to sell other than that he wanted people to know that God was a God of life and that he still desires to be active in our right-now. I told Kyle that I felt on one hand that this could end up being the absolute corniest thing we've ever done. On the other hand, if we approached it reverently and with non-cynical eyes that it could also be the most meaningful. He said he agreed and decided we'd do it.

Sunday came and since Esau was in town for Baylor Homecoming, Kyle had him share a few brief words about the experiment. After telling the congregation how excited he was about this Kyle then prayed a prayer for it and, from what I understand, the end of the prayer was simply, "Surprise Me, God."

And what happened next is the burden we've all been carrying for five months now.

We went the greater part of those five months not addressing the whole "Surprise Me" deal. We didn't avoid it, but it wasn't something we wanted our minds running to either. Of course there were those on the outside who showed the horrible things in their insides by trying to connect the dots between Kyle's last prayer and the accident, but for the most part we let them say what they would say and then quietly fade into oblivion. These people are like vultures-- they prey on the defenseless, but go away when they see life and vitality coming out of their intended victims. They need their beliefs validated, so they'll move to and fro between accident to accident. Their talk was hurtful, but they've long since moved on while we are still living well, thank you very much.

I've carried Surprise Me in the store for a while now, and I admire it from a distance. I haven't opened the book, but I have recommended it to people. It's a strange relationship we have had, that book and me.

If you don't already know this, let me be clear: Virtually none of us believe there was any correlation between Kyle praying "Surprise Me, God" and his death. We believe what happened was an accident. Nothing more, nothing less.

But that doesn't make it any less strange and it doesn't make it hurt less.

On Sunday Terry Esau spoke to UBC for the first time since that day and, for me, it was one of the single most meaningful words I've heard since Kyle's death. From the beginning Terry has responded to the whole incident with grace and sincerity. He best captured what Kyle would have said about the accident in an interview when he said
"I think he would have said, 'There are laws of nature, electrical laws, and they were violated that day and I was in a really bad place where the violation happened."

When he got up to preach he was visibly nervous, and rightly so. How to you address people who have lost someone they love deeply when that person's last prayer was from your mouth? I didn't envy him, but by the end I appreciated him and the courage he exhibited. He spoke what Ben told him we would want to hear. He spoke truth.

Truth is an interesting word. It's become one of those battle words in our culture, especially our evangelical culture, that most people use to see what side of their line you fall on. But Esau's was not that kind of truth. His truth was the vintage kind that lays everything on the table and is honest. It says "This is what I believe about God and this is what I know about happened and, no matter how hard I try I can't put the two together. But, you know what? That's ok. I don't have to. As we've all been told, God isn't afraid of our questions, but he's also not afraid of us choosing not to ask them and just trusting in Him."

I won't share everything about what he said, but I will say that I felt Kyle in the room as he spoke. It was a sermon Kyle would have smiled through. It was a sermon Kyle would have said "Right On," about. It was a sermon that he would have just laughed for hours afterwards because it was, as Kyle would say, "So un-freaking-believable. It was, in short, a Kyle Lake sermon.

No, Kyle praying "Surprise Me" had nothing to do with what happened, although we were surprised. We were surprised that so much joy could come from so much grief. We were surprised we could hug as hard as we did without suffocating. We were surprised at how God has created our bodies with the mechanisms to cope. Many of us were surprised at the words that came out of our mouths and onto the page. (I've heard Jen Lake on more than one occasion saying she'll be journaling and look at what she wrote and have no idea she had it in her.)

Jesus surprised us all as he busted the doors wide open into our world and danced and laughed and feasted in our midst, and for that we say thank you, thank you, thank you.

And surprise us some more.

(Thank you, Terry.)

Monday, March 27, 2006

A Reader from Home?...

The Site Meter not only tells me where those who read my blog are from and what time they got here, it also tells what brought them here. I'm always shocked by how many people find me by Googling my name, until I remember that I spend a lot of my internet time Googling the names of people I've known in the past.

Today someone has found my blog by Googling "The Chandler-Brownsboro Statesman," the newspaper many of you are gracious enough to pick up for me when you are traveling to parts east of here. I've mentioned the paper before so when you type it into Google and scroll down a bit you'll find my page.

This is interesting and a bit scary. The closer the site map gets to Chandler the more nervous I get. Because I'm like most of you-- Although our personalities and "essences" are the same as when we were growing up, many of those in our hometowns have missed out on much of our development as humans. This means the "Craig" they think they know isn't the whole story.

I think most people I know have at least some contact with their friends from home, but I have little to none-- other than an Instant Message friendship with one old friend. I'd really like to reconnect with people.

Anyway, all that to say, I'd love to know who from my hometown area has finally found me. (And I know it's from Chandler or Brownsboro because I can't possibly imagine why anyone would Google the Chandler-Brownsboro Statesman unless they are from there.) So speak up and make yourself known.

I know I promised something about the Terry Esau sermon, but I need to be fully rested. I've spent the day writing, watching the Lake kids for a bit, and playing racquetball. I need some rest. I've got a busy week ahead of me, but hopefully I'll check in from time to time.


My Weekend...

If you haven't checked out Singleton's latest post, you should. It is rocking and I'd like to believe somewhat inspired by my great culinary abilities with a can opener, skillet, and crock pot. Seriously, though, it's some great writing.

It's ten till two in the a.m. and I am just getting home from work. Every few months the carpet cleaners come and management presence is required. So I went, got a few tasks done, then sat down and spent a couple of hours reading. My plan was to start the new McLaren book but I was distracted instead by Rolling Stone and Men's Health magazines. About the time I got to the book the carpet cleaner walked up and said they were finished.

The ride home was peaceful, all two miles of it. There's probably not a more desolate place than Waco at 1:30 on Monday mornings. The weekend partiers are nursing hangovers and planning their work call-in excuses and even the Charismatics and Pentecostals have been done with worship for a while now. It's just the road, deserted business, and me.

I've had a wonderful weekend. After work on Friday I headed to the Dugan's for a nice night of poker, pizza, and beer. In case you were wondering I had one beer and four pieces of pizza. (Or was it the other way around? I can't remember.) I won squat but that's quite alright because I had a great time anyway with wonderful people who can appreciate good, and even vulgar and out of hand, your momma jokes. I look forward to the next poker night.

Get this-- The Adbusters people should be proud of me. I spent zero dollars on Saturday. Didn't get in my car to go anywhere and didn't pay a dime for a wonderful day. I woke up at around 6:30, got some cleaning done, watched a little Texas Country Reporter and the Weekend Today Show, took a nap, went for a run, and (it's about time) started back to work on the book I started about a year ago. I'm on this chapter about conversion and I've been kind of stuck on it for a long time. But yesterday I decided to push through it so I can move on to other stuff that may come a little easier. After a couple of hours with that, (and four pages written,) I watched the Baylor Lady Bears get beat, then went to bed at 9:30. It was the closest thing to a true Sabbath I've had in an awful long time.

Which is funny, since our discussion topic this morning at Sunday School was about Sabbath. I truly enjoyed it.

It was good to have the Crowder band back for church today. Terry Esau preached and it was wonderful. I plan on writing more about that tomorrow, but in the meantime Amanda has already written about it and I concur with her sentiments.

After church I had people over for lunch. We ate outside on the patio and enjoyed the beautiful weather and even more beautiful people. I then took a nap, went to work out, stopped by the store to purchase a Moleskine journal since that is what all the cool people are using these days, and headed to Panera for a couple of hours to continue working on book stuff. After that I was off to the store, and now I am here.

Oh, and my plans have changed slightly for next weekend. I'm going to try to get off early on Friday, go see the miracle of adoption, then head off to Caddo Lake for a weekend of camping, quiet, reading, running, and writing. It's possible others will be joining me and it's also possible I may be alone. Either way it will be a much needed time of rest for me.

I hope you all have a wonderful week filled with all the good stuff.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


A popular Christian pastor and author tells the story of a gentleman who converted to Christianity late in life and was overcome with grief that he had "wasted his life." Now I have no clue what kind of life this man lived before he became a Christian. He could have been a child abuser, alcoholic, tax evader, or even a Democrat. But did his being a Johnny-Come-Lately to our faith invalidate everything about his life up to the point he walked the aisle after an invitational hymn and gave his life to Jesus? Had he really wasted his life?

There's a lady I know who is not a Christian. She understands beauty and seeks it out. She celebrates and practices laughter whenever and wherever it can be found. She takes her work seriously, speaks of things like justice and mercy, and believes there is a spiritual aspect within all reality. The other day she made my heart open up and dance a little when she told me that when I carry a stack of Kyle's books she can see that I am still carrying a piece of him with me everywhere I go. She does not follow Christ. But is hers a wasted life?

There's a missionary in an area designated by many evangelicals as "World A" or "The 10-40 Window," where the majority of the population has never heard or been exposed to the Good News of Jesus. She has committed her life to spreading the gospel in this area. Last year her father died. Although she wanted to, and had the means, her mission agency would not allow her to return to the states for the funeral. Her family would have to grieve without her. She took seriously the call Christ gave his would be followers to let the dead bury the dead. But is this really the mark of a life well lived?

As someone marked as a follower of the Christ from Galilee, I must acknowledge that a life devoted to beauty and spirituality and justice and mercy, without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is deficient and cannot save. The one I follow and worship is the Way, the Truth, the Life, and no one gets to God without him. He said that, so I have to buy it.

I also must recognize the great sacrifice it takes to make the difficult decision that, though both are important, the call to Christ supersedes all others-- even a devotion to family. And this call sometimes requires tough choices.

But, with that said, should we really be comfortable with insinuating that those who become a Christian late in life, or not at all, have "wasted" their lives? Is the spark of God that remains in all of us not capable of spreading life, even the God-life, into our little corners of the world? Does devoting ourselves to poverty and the spreading of the gospel, regardless of the cost, automatically validate our lives, no matter what else we do with them?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

March is flying by like a jet airplane and I'm quite happy about that. April, barring any unforeseen circumstances, is shaping up to be the anti-November. Of course I make that claim with caution since I've found out over the past few months that unforseen circumstances don't pay attention to whether or not they are barred. They walk in on you like my crazy Uncle Jackie, eat your food, make you laugh, but typically ruin your plans for the day.

But assuming circumstances heed their being barred, I'm excited about April for the following reasons:

-- I am taking April 1,2,3,4, and 5 off from work. Aside from the days surrounding Kyle's funeral, I have had no significant time off since the beginning of August, when Jason and I made our road trip around Texas.

-- The first day or so of that time I'll spend between DFW visiting friends such as Fortenberry, Brent, Marvin, and hopefully El Mol, and Marshall where hopefully I can spend some time with the infamous Robert Butler.

-- After that I'll head to the former hometown of Ms. Ellen Degeneres, Atlanta, TX, where I will meet up with Jason and Christy, who are in from France.

-- For most of the month of April my good friend Tim Buechsel and his wife Isabell, who are now living in Germany, will be here in Waco.

-- At the end of the month the Smiths (Luke's parents) will be here.

-- You can never guess when beautiful days will occur in Central Texas, but if you are a gambling man, the days of April are high odds.

So unforeseen circumstances, unless you are of the good variety, I bar you from next month.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Channeling the Good Monster...

Of all the interesting things in the world I think cookie jars are very close to the top. I don't care who you are, if you walk past one of those old fashioned ceramic cookie jars that say "Cookies" in raised glossy letters on the outside, you have a deep desire to pull the top off, listen to the clanging noise of the top being pulled off, and peer inside to see if there are, in fact, cookies located in the hollow center.

My grandmother owned one such cookie jar. As a child I never had to wonder if there were cookies in it because there always were. Sometimes they were homemade but mostly a package of Nabisco Chocolate Chip cookies were opened and emptied into the cookie jar. Oh, and the occasional Little Debbie snack. Love that Little Debbie.

As I got older...well, actually, as she got older, the cookies stopped showing up in the cookie jar. Instead she began to use the cookie jar as storage for other food-related items such as cake mixes or marshamllows or just plain brown sugar. In fact almost everything in my grandmother's kitchen over the years developed a use other than that originally imagined by it's designers. The microwave became the bread box because the bread box had to house the Saltines. The oven housed the cast iron skillet which was used to make cornbread.

But that cookie jar was the centerpiece of the house and the only reason I'm telling you this is because I needed to write something and, frankly, I'm a little hungry for cookies right now.
Kyle was devoted to the practice of eating uncooked chocolate chip cookie dough which is really irrelevant to this post about cookie jars other than that it provides a perfect segueway into having you check out the trailer for Kyle's Film.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Sometime soon I will share (much to Ben's delight) some regrets I now have about the way we went to war in Iraq. But for now, let me just ask, didn't we go to war in Afghanistan to stop crap like this?

Thomas Bickle...

Check out the blog of El Mol sometime today. My Site Meter tells me there's enough of you out there to put a huge dent into the needs of a deserving family.

Monday, March 20, 2006

In Search of a Pat on the Ass...

A few months ago I ran into an old friend who lives here in Waco, but who I don't really see that often. We exchanged the obligatory "What are you up to?" 's and "Have you heard from?" 's. Somewhere in the conversation it came up that there was this lady who had become his Life Coach. I gave the obligatory "That's cool." I'm quite sure the tone of my "That's cool," suggested that a.) I didn't know what the hell a Life Coach was and b.) I didnt' really think it was cool to have one.

Today after work I had my weekly Monday afternoon game of racquetball with Nathan. I came home, grabbed a bite to eat, then began to prepare for the writing group I'm a part of. On my way out the door I was thinking about my day and my week and the Annie Dillard quote that used to adorn Myles' blog that read "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."

I'm loving the way I spend my days these days. I cram in work and a little excersise. I try to read a little and catch up with the news. I try to get all that out of the way so I can spend time with people I love and who love me, like the three kids whose fingers I'm wrapped around and people who tend to celebrate birthdays once a year, like Harris did today.

But in the middle of it I'm getting the feeling that my days are getting a bit too crowded. I've had my ego stroked enough that I want to spend more time writing. There are financial goals I'm just now considering fullfilling, like getting a lot of bills paid and exploring the possibilty of purchasing a house in the next couple of years.

The spirit is willing, you know the rest.

As I was driving I had this thought: I need a Life Coach-- Someone to tell me what to do and when to do it. I need someone who can take my erratic work schedule that comes out once a week, scan through it, and begin planning the next couple of weeks for me. This person would call all the people I should spend time with and work my shedule out with theirs. They would tell me when I should be writing, when I should be sleeping, and how many miles I should run on a given day. I'd wake up in the morning, walk out the door and they'd yell "We went over this yesterday, remember? You can do it buddy! Go get 'em Tiger," and then slap my ass as I got into my car.

Anyone interested in the position? If you were my Life Coach, what would you tell me to do?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Revival Ramblings...

Growing up we had church meetings twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday. Once a year, however, a week was set aside to have church every day and this was called a "Revival."

Some of you know what I'm screamin'.

Revival services were led not by the local pastor but by an itinerant preacher known as an "evangelist," which in most cases was a misnomer seeing how evangelism was not the point of a revival. Re-vival was the point. Or was it? Wednesday nights (which in my early childhood was the middle night of revival services-- later on it became the last) was set aside as "Bring 'em Back Alive" night. On this night we were encouraged to bring our friends who were not Christians to church where they could become alive. The hope was that these souls who were dead at 6:30 p.m. would be alive by 10:00 p.m., just in time for the local news.

The problem with this is that in all of East Texas there are only about four or five people who don't claim to be Christians.

So rather than bringing our nonexistent non-Christian friends we instead brought not people who didn't worship, but rather people who worshipped at different places and in different ways. Revival weeks were times to pick off members of another congregation and add them to yours.

Another result of being in a place during Revivals where everyone was (or called themselves) Christians was the phenomenon of people who were thought by all to be of the faith who came to the realization that although they prayed to God and read their bibles daily and believed in God the Father, Jesus the Crucified and Resurrected Son, and the Holy Spirit, they were not, in fact, "saved," (which is the words we used for being a Christian.) Sometimes these people got "saved" at every revival. It was somewhat scandalous, yet extremely enjoyable to watch

When I got to college I began hearing the word "Revival" in different contexts from the once a year week long meeting I had grown up attending. People began to say "revival is coming," yet not once reference an evangelist or a "Bring 'em Back Alive" night. It seemed they were talking about something that was at best, True. At worst, Fun.

Later I learned that when people said they thought revival was coming what they really meant was that soon something will happen and the faith of everyone else will look just like my faith. "Revival is coming, and when it does, I want to be there," really meant "Revival is cominig, and when people look for the reason for it, look no further than right here at me."

It's funny, but I haven't heard anyone talk about revival in the past five or six years. I can't decide if incessant revival-talk is primarily an East Texas occurance, if something people in Waco are too sophisticated for, or if people have just gotten tired of it.

To tell you the truth, I haven't missed it one bit.

Looking back on the revival meetings of my childhood I realize the greatest thing about them was the sharing of meals that would happen before each service and the opportunity to hear a different preacher (even if they yelled much louder than ours--a feat that seemed impossible but that occured nevertheless.)

I typically cast a cynical eye towards revival talk. Maybe this isn't good, but I think it's a defense mechanism because generally people going through what they claim to be "revival" can be a bit too exclusive and snoody for my taste, without even realizing it.

(This post has been a ramble-- trying to make it into a book chapter.... sorry for the abrupt ending.)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

No, No, No,...

I don't claim to know much about heaven or what emotions and feelings we have when we get there. But I can safely say right now that Kyle is pissed.

Friday, March 17, 2006


I've spent the past couple of days in an empty apartment in the center of an empty college town. I've left for errands, but mostly I've just wandered back and forth between this computer, the chairs occupying this room, and the couch in front of the television.

I sit in silence reading about the Azusa Street Revival and the birth of global Pentecostalism. I come to a stopping point, place the bookmark (which is actually the receipt from the purchase of the book) into the crease, close it, place it on my lap and inhale a deep breath. I consider my brushes with the many strains of strange (to me) churches and practices and beliefs. I wonder how they have shaped in ways good and not so good. I revisit in my mind the time I spent at a church that always thought I was good but just hadn't quite arrived to where I should be because I was a novice in "True Spirituality." I haven't thought these thoughts in years. They come and go. I obsess over them for months at a time then convince myself I'm over it until a year or two later when a book comes across my eyes or a conversation darkens my door. My life has been a reaction to this.

Then I'm stunned into the realization that my hand is still reacting to the impulse caused by my contemplations. The impulse to reach into my pocket for my cell phone to call Kyle and tell him, hey, next time we hang out remind me to tell you about...

Then I take another deep breath. Not the "I'm enjoying life, breathe and breathe well" type breaths, but rather the "I guess this is when I should cry, but I'm just getting too tired for it" breaths.

Yesterday I watched the movie Sideways. I enjoyed it, thought probably not as much as others would have liked me to. The thing about it that moved me was how Jack, the character played by Thomas Hayden Church, despite his lack of interest in the nuances of wine loved his friend Miles, played by Paul Giamatti, so much that he was willing to suffer gladly Mile's love affair with everything wine-related. Yet it was so much more than suffering gladly. Jack actually slowly, over time, developed a novice's appreciation for the fermented nectar because of his friends obsession. I would never be Miles, but it was something.

This was one of Kyle's greatest gifts: He never lost his genuine curiosity about people and life and ideas that fall to the wayside for so many of us the farther away from childhood we get. One of his favorite things to say was how at UBC we are not a people who "posture holiness." And for Kyle it could be said by anyone who was ever engaged in a conversation with him is that he could never posture curiosity. He was curious.

Everyone was always interested in Kyle because he always made you feel interesting. In front of him you always felt special, like you were a real person. Unlike many leaders who see you as a cog in the machine of their organization, Kyle saw you as a friend with a world of life to be mined and enjoyed.

I pick up the book and continue reading.
And breathe.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What I've been up to...

I've kind of used Spring Break (which I am not a part of) as an excuse to not write much. Everyone else has checked out, so I guess I have as well.

The things I've been doing this week are as following...

-- Becoming familiar with Graphic Novels (comic books for us old timers.) I've given up the gift department to Carol, who has a much better eye and talent for that stuff, and have taken up the Manga, Graphic Novel, and Role Playing Game Department. I'm going to become a nerd. But better a nerd than having to clean up journals every day.

-- Helping Jen move into her new place next door to Jessica Simpson's grandparents and scheming how I can become the next Mr. Jessica Simpson. (I'll even settle for Mr. Ashley Simpson if it will guarantee me a place on the cover of at least one tabloid. Is she 18 yet?)

-- Working on some writing stuff about Kyle.

-- Listening to some of Kyle's sermons.

-- Running on the treadmill and suspecting I have some fluid on my lungs because it's been a little harder to breathe lately. Perhaps it's something in the air.

-- Reading a book on the Azusa Street Revival and the birth of global Pentecostalism.

-- Waiting patiently on everyone to return to Waco so we can continue this great big party we call life.


Friday, March 10, 2006

In Defense of the Gymnatorium...

Thanks to all of your positive responses to my last post. These things come out weird sometimes, don't they? Sometimes I spend an entire day trying to construct something that would be meaningful to people, then post it and it kind of falls flat. Other times I sit down for thirty minutes to write about playing MarioKart and get a dozen positive replies in just a couple of hours. You never know.

(That was me trying to lower the bar a bit so you won't expect too much in the future, but still keep coming back on the chance there might be something good.)

I also appreciated John's question and wanted to give it a more thoughtful response than I initially gave.

John said:

So are you saying that you *need* the building? And are you suggesting that a space isn't as holy if it was just previously used as a gym floor?

I'm not trying to be argumentative. I'm just curious where you draw the line on "sacred space" and how far you're willing to take it. I personally struggle to know where that balance is.

One of the great things about getting a bit older is that I have slowly lost the desire to critique and diminish other churches that don't value the same things I value and practice their faith like me. That is, providing that church doesn't spread the poison of spiritual elitism throughout a particular community. (Read: Well, read whichever church you feel fits that description in your community. :) ) It's good to be in a place where you can look at differences and say they are just that-- differences. Not better or worse, just different.

With that said, I think that anyone in a place like Waco with a million churches who visits a few and chooses one, is in a way critiquing all the others. In choosing UBC I was, in effect, saying that the small amount of churches I had experienced here (3), while good in some ways, for me was lacking in some areas. (That's not to say UBC doesn't lack in some areas, as well. I just decided those were not as important.)

I can honestly say, however, that I don't look down on churches who choose functionality over beauty. I also don't believe the two have to be mutually exclusive. There can be something truly beautiful about a congregation who decides to create a space that serves multiple purposes, assuming that decision was well thought out. I know of churches that build cheap and ugly edifices because they feel their money can be better used for mission endeavors. That is beauty. I know of churches that meet in a gymnasium, that is used during the week to reach out to those in the community. That is beauty.

I can read my last post and say "Amen," and I can listen to Tillie Burgin, Director of Mission Arlington and one of my spiritual heroes, preach about how as long as there are people who are trying to Love Jesus and their neighbor and trying to do both together, then it doesn't matter where you have church or what it looks like and also give a hearty "Amen."

I think functionality can be a good thing, provided there is a reason for it. In fact, I may have even given the impression that our building on Dutton isn't functional at all, which would be incorrect. A few years ago we got rid of our old ugly orange pews and replaced them with individual chairs that could be moved around. I was actually against this at the time. I think there's something VERY special about pews. When you sit in pews there is not a barrier between you and your neighbor. There's something beautiful about the messes pews create. It's hard to get in and out. If you drop something it's hard to pick it up. You can't really do anything in a pew without the approval of someone else. Pews make you think of an organic whole while chairs just scream WE'RE A BUNCH OF INDIVIDUALS. Yet, despite my objections the pews went bye-bye and the blue chairs came in, making our room much more functional.

A few months later, the functionality of our worship space made it possible for my close friends Jason and Christy to have their wedding reception in our sanctuary and it was one of the most beautiful, holy, life-giving and affirming experiences I've ever had. Were the old ugly orange pews in the way, I could not have had that experience in that place.

All that to say, "Amen" to functionality and "Amen" to inefficiency. Both speak volumes about who we are and can be beautiful and holy in their own way.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

This is Our Story...

"Actually, I think Heaven is probably somewhere here in Waco."
-- Avery Lake, Age 5.

I'm preaching on Sunday, as I do on most First Sundays of Spring Break. Ben said he wanted to talk through sermon stuff with me at the church today. So I went and if you want my honest opinion I'll tell you: I think he was tricking me into finally stepping foot in the building I have not visited since the end of October.

One downside of many of the offshoots of the Protestant Reformation is the belief that what can't be seen-- soul, spirit, mind, heart-- is the REALLY important stuff, and the stuff you CAN touch and feel have value only insofar as they act as a vessel for the invisible things. This manifests itself in church buildings with little to no symbols adorning plain white walls and a lot of talk of "functionality." Your worship space can become your basketball court before it becomes your fellowship hall.

You hear the word "only" a lot when these church buildings are mentioned. The building is not the church, it's ONLY bricks and mortar. (Except when it's ONLY aluminum and screws.) God doesn't care about the place, he's ONLY concerned with whether or not he is getting the glory through the saving of souls. It's ONLY a building. It's ONLY a place.

Yet the rejection of this mindset is one of the first things that attracted me to UBC. The first group of any kind that I belonged to at our church was what was known as Clean Team. Our bare-bones budget allows only for the absolute essentials. So the responsibilities of cleaning and maintaining the building that falls to a paid janitor in most churches are the work of whoever decides to get it done at UBC. This can be terribly inefficient at times, kind of like the gospel, but it prevents anyone from seeing something that needs to be done and saying "Whose responsibility is this?" UBC'ers know never to ask that question because the answer is always "Yours."

Yet a sense of shared responsibility isn't the only thing that makes this "model," stand apart. I knew very early on that the people who called themselves "UBC" took that building that was formerly an old grocery store on Dutton Avenue EXTREMELY seriously. It wasn't ONLY a place and it wasn't ONLY bricks and mortar and aluminum and screws, although it was all of those.

In many ways the church building is as much a part of our story as the songs we sing and the sermons we hear.

If you want to know what our story is I'll tell you about Jesus and his death, resurrection, ascension, and imminent return. I can tell you about Paul and Moses and Lydia and John, the one Jesus loved. I'll teach you the lyrics to "All Creatures of Our God and King" and "Make a Joyful Noise," and in the telling of it all you will know a huge part of our story.

But I'll also take you back to the place I made my first turkey four years ago and began to realize how quickly you can fall in love with a group of people. If you want you can see the sidewalk where Tracey and I first met and I'll tell you about how our friendship opened up a world of new friendships for me and how sometimes living in community can suck ass big time and how sometimes it is the greatest thing in the world, but how it always seems to us to be God's way. I'll show you exactly where my parents were sitting when their theological doors were blown wide open upon seeing what they had previously had no categories for: A female preacher. (Thanks, Ann!)

If you'd like you can see the room where I embarrassed myself by referring to a female as "loose," which also happens to be the room where Josh Carney taught his first Sunday School class at UBC, thereby developing a following second to none. (Gotcha!)

Laughter, prayer, tears, forgiveness, first loves, ecstatic as well as sedate worship are all layers in the great story that building tells.

So is death.

If it is ONLY a building, then my fear of returning to it would be silly. When we all return and feel the simultaneous pangs of joy and grief, it will not be for a holiness that is missing. It will be because for many of us that place is TOO Holy. The Sistine Chapel replica and the Last Supper in black and white with the red apple and the Madonna in the back that exposes so much of our fears and bias and the aluminum siding in the hallways and the checkered room and the nursery where I was when I heard rumblings of an accident, even the new edifices that are just now being constructed-- all these things are part of the Grand Narrative of a little chunk of God's People and spill out Holiness from every crack and crevice.

We didn't talk sermon stuff very much but we did play MarioKaart. Ben, you are a genius. Offering to play a game was a ballsey move on your behalf, and it payed off. I shed a tear while you weren't looking because Kyle's presence and laughter was so thick. It makes no sense that he was not there. No sense at all. But his absence has become as much a part of our story as his presence and what better place to celebrate one and grieve the other than that building on Dutton Avenue, beating each others brains out with Red Turtle Shells and Stars that make you immortal, if only for a moment.

Monday, March 06, 2006


I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who has congratulated me for finishing the Bearathon, and especially my cheering section who seemed to follow me everywhere. It was a great experience.

And just in case you are wondering, yes, I did win with a time of 1:20:45. But apparently none of the pictures taken with me at the finish line reflect that. The clock was messed up and read 2:09:39, so I don't have much evidential ground to stand on when asking for my first place trophy.

A Note on My Links

Since I added a lot of new links last week I wanted to spend some time introducing everyone to everyone. Unfortunately, I don't seem to have that much time. But, in case you are wondering, my links divide up into the following categories...

Friends by way of ETBU (and their spouses): Blake, Jason, Christy, Cory, Shane, Aaron, Jeanne (by virtue of her being married to a former ETBU prof,) Mark, Robert B, Nathan, and The Stumbling Runner.

UBC'ers: Harris, Ben, Singleton, Josh, Robert D, Jordan, Crowder, Meg, Adam, Amanda, Janalee, JenA, Katy, Erin, El Mol (Not really UBC'er, but might as well be,) The Ponds, Tori, Ann, Tom, and Mike.

Friends Picked Up Along the Way: Tracey, Myles, Kathy, Mark, Luke, Chad.

So now that you know each other, converse. I do have one pairing I would like to see be blog comment partners: Josh Carney, meet Aaron O'Kelly. I'm going to need to see some good theological sparring from you two.

(By the way, Josh, when I went to your site to copy/paste the link for the previous paragraph, I noticed you had me linked under "UBC's Godfather." Hilarious.)

Just remember, never go against the family.

Friday, March 03, 2006

13.1, Well...

Sometimes hope seems like a song whose lyrics you've forgotten. You know it exists and it is good, but your memory cannot do it justice. Then a friend comes along and helps you remember a line. Together you start to remember it more and more, and pretty soon you are singing and giggling.-- Janalee Shadburn

Ben hit the nail on the head in yesterday's Trib Article when he spoke of how crucial the final words of Kyle's final sermon have become to us. I can't help but wonder how this post October 30 life of mine, and of UBC, would have been different without those words. Would we have felt ok laughing? Would the moments I've spent alone being paralyzed with tears and fears have brought me a sense of guilt and shame, had I not been given permission to grieve by the person whose death I am grieving?

I spent that Sunday night with the kids, away from Waco. The next morning, after no sleep, I drove back into town to help with funeral preparations and to buy a suit. (The joke floating around that day was how, based on what we normally wear at UBC, the Waco suit industry was bound to see it's biggest boom in years.) On my way into town I got a call from Jamie telling me Kyle's Bible and the text of his sermon were still on his desk and that I might want to pick it up. So I went to the church, picked it up, then tried to eat for the first time since Saturday night. I didn't get to, but that's a whole other funny story just waiting to be told. (Or, have I already told it? I can't remember.)

I came home and sat down and started to read the sermon. I had no clue what was in store for me. A lot of times I knew bits and pieces of Kyle's sermons because we'd talk about them. But because I had preached on the previous Wednesday night, most of our conversations were about that. All I knew was he was doing God in the Movies on Garden State. I began reading and recognized the text because he had used it in the God's Will book and much of the conversation about the movie clips were familiar because we had watched the movie together about this time last year and talked about it for several days.

But then, "Live, and live well..."

And it was over. Any composure I had remaining was washed away in a sea of little boy tears, right there in my living room. Here was my best friend writing about the life we should all be living by describing the life he lived on a daily basis, and now he was no longer alive. Those words he wrote destroyed me. They destroyed all of us.

But with the same quickness and fury with which those words destroyed us, they began to put us back together again. What caused so much pain by reminding us what was lost gave so much pleasure at reminding us what we've always been given by our Creator-- Life. Here and Now Life.

We say his words a lot. Our blogs are peppered with the words "Live, and live well," and "Love God, Embrace Beauty, and Live Life to the fullest."

I actually have two big fears about those words. One, that those on the outside of ourcommunityy would see the frequency with which we use them and come to the conclusion that we have turned them into a pseudo-canon, approaching the importance of Scripture in our lives. Or, worse, that our love for and remembrance of Kyle would start to look an awful lot like worship.

If this is your concern, do not fear. Kyle is our Saint. He is not our God. He may have been unorthodox in many ways, but he preached true orthodoxy, and as I have said before, we are Jesus People.

My second, and bigger fear, is that we would talk about Living and Living Well so much that it becomes trite. Cliche'. If Kyle hated anything it was cliches. (And theWashingtono Redskins.) Sometimes overuse can empty words of their meaning and I'm afraid Kyle's words are no different. In fact, I think this principle as at the heart of the commandment not to use God's name in vain. I don't think God cares about us saying "God Damn It!" when we burn ourselves as much as he hates us saying his name over and over so much to where it means absolutely nothing.

But we guard his words not by refraining from their use, but by using them over and over and then actually LIVING THEM! You've read a lot of "Live and Live Well," and "Grieve, and Grieve Well" talk, and you may be getting tired of it. But all over our world people who knew and loved Kyle are OBEYING! So if you are getting tired of hearing these words, drive down I-35 and see for yourself.

We are driving around Waco, TX with our windows down and hand out.
We are wiping the snot off of three years olds, and not getting disgusted.
We are grieving, alone and together, and you'd better damn well believe we are grieving well.
We are sitting together over meals and laughing so hard the food is going up our noses.
We are tasting every ounce of friendship.
We are tasting every ounce of life.
We are recognizing it is all a gift, and we are recognizing the Giver is God.
We are living.

Tomorrow I plan on running 13.1 miles. I started running about a year ago and I started running more after Kyle died. I don't run because I think it's fun, although at times it is. Sometimes I have a big smile on my face but most of the time I'm huffing and puffing like the fat kid I still believe I am. I feel many different things when I run, but mostly I feel Kyle running with me. I remember the time at Texas Stadium when we had to run in order to make it to the game by kickoff and how Kyle, who could smoke me in a race, stayed a step behind me. Moving forward, together.

He's several steps ahead of me now but every step I take tomorrow will be for him, and with him. I won't run fast or finish strong. But I'll do everything I can to run well.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

An Open Letter to the Philosophy Section...

Dear Philosophy Section at Barnes & Noble, Waco, TX,

I spent my day moving you. But I guess you already knew that since you spent your day being moved. The inventory reallocation of last summer left far too much space in that little island of Computer Books in the back corner of the store where people study. So I consolidated Computers, creating three entire empty bays, all next to each other and two of which are your new home.

I don't suppose you mind being removed from the Religion Section, since most of the authors of your volumes have the reputation (deserved or not) of looking down on and/or objectifying Religion. I also thought you might be happy that you are no longer fragmented as before, when Anselm through James were located next to the Bibles and Kierkegaard through Xavier were around the corner sharing a side with Astrology and New Age. You are now one big happy family. You can ponder the meaning of the universe together, uninhibited by the false demarcations created by some dimwitted cubicle dweller living in upstate New York. (And just so you know, I moved you without their permission. I'm a sneaky son of a bitch, aint I?)

You may be concerned that your titles will not be purchased because of your new obscure location. But seriously, you know as well as I that the only people who look at you anyway are the fringe Baylor undergrads trying to create intellectual distance between themselves and their less-than-cool, non-alternative evangelical counterparts. These are the same people who think they are better than me because they don't watch television or listen to Clear Channel. They are also the ones who browse the section with their equally-cool friends then come up to me and ask, "Why doesn't your Philosophy section have anything written by Socrates in it?" I feign stupidity and say something about how I guess it's because we are in a smaller town.

I feel a certain amount of permission to talk about these people because I was once one of them. I took Introduction to Philosophy in college and thought I was Hot Shit. The Stumbling Runner was in the class with me. He was much smarter than me. I don't remember much about the class except for thinking "I could never understand this stuff, but I think it might be a good idea for me to try and pretend like I do. You know, so I can drop the name 'Sartre' at a dinner party, assuming I'm ever at a dinner party." I also remember when people said they didn't care too much for philosophy that I would develop a way of saying something about how EVERYONE cares about philosophy, they just don't know it. Kind of like people say EVERYONE has a theology, whether they know it or not. It might be true, but most people don't want some smart-ass college student forcing that acknowledgement on them.

Speaking of individual philosophers, (I mentioned Sartre, remember?) don't you think it's kind of humorous that Foucalt, that postmodern guy, is located right next to Frankfurt, the author of "On Bullshit?" I just find it a little funny.

I hope you enjoy your new home. I had fun creating it for you. I'll forget about you and you'll get dusty soon, but as I was moving you today I kind of got the impression that you like it that way. Your titles are for the few. You are such that I'm glad people are reading you, and I'm glad it's not me.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

New Template...

Well, here you go. I was expecting to have some thoughtful post about change to usher in the new look of my blog, but I'm just too tired from fooling with everything.

You'll see there are new links. As I was posting them all I was reminded what a people pleaser I am. I didn't want anyone to feel left out, and yet I know I probably left someone out. You'll also notice I have created a blog bench of people who have retired early or simply disappeared. I'd love to move you back up, but I'm going to have to see some stuff.

Most importantly, and what several people have asked about, are the archives going back to the day I lost my blog virginity, May 2, 2002. It's really kind of weird going through and reading stuff from back then. If you choose to look, remember we've all changed in many ways.

Well, it's off to bed for me. Have a wonderful evening and look for new stuff soon, now that the Bearathon training is practically over. (I'll run a little tomorrow, then be finished.)

Take Care.
Since I've started this blog I've wanted to keep the format the same. But my ever growing number of links, coupled with my inability to find a way to link my archives, has made me decide to go with one of the blogger-created templates. I'll also probably lose the Haloscan comments and go with the way most of you have your comments. Because of that, get all the commenting done on the previous post before tonight, when I switch over, because they'll probably be lost.

In the meantime, if you are in Central Texas today and have read or heard any part of the ending of Kyle's final sermon, you have absolutely no excuse to be driving around today without you windows rolled down and your hands out the window. It's a beautiful day!