Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Year...

In 2007 I resolve to...

-- Listen to more Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn, and pick someone none of you have ever heard of and become that artist's biggest fan.

-- Run so hard and for so long that I can eat whatever I want, and drink as much beer as makes me responsibly happy, without worrying about gaining weight.

-- Visit Blake and Karla in Seattle.

-- Finish writing the book I started two years ago.

-- Get a tatoo.

-- Piss somebody off.

-- Wedge myself into a conversation in which I convince an evangelical that I am not a Christian and have them walk me through the sinners prayer. After saying "Amen" I will say, "Wow, this is amazing. Now I have two religions-- Islam AND Christianity!"

-- Get a camera and take some pictures.

-- Go on dates.

-- Spend more time at Caddo Lake.

-- Buy a new iron.

-- Be honest with people when I don't remember their name.

-- Pay off my MasterCard.

-- Be done with half-ass hugs.

-- Not sweat the small stuff.

-- Read Crime and Punishment.

-- Watch more television.

-- Take more naps.

-- Go to the Texas Country Reporter Festival.

-- Read the Bible more.

-- Wear cooler clothes.

-- Learn all the words to "The End of the World as we Know It."

-- Write more letters.

-- Sing much louder.

-- Get more stories.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Of all the years I've lived through, this has by far been the most hard to categorize. I've made new friends, yet those closest to me were no longer near. There have been many moments of uncontrollable laughter, yet many nights I lay in bed paralyzed with grief. I guess I could be bipolar. Or it could be that I've discovered the "abundant life" Jesus promised isn't one in which we are always on cloud nine, but rather one in which we experience myriad of emotions-- happiness, sadness, vitality, tiredness-- in abundance.

I came into the year still smarting from the death of Kyle. As the first few months tredged along, the adrenaline of the intitial shock began to wane and all that was left was emptiness. But all emptiness begs to be filled, and mine was filled with many nights hanging out with friends. It seemed we all made an unconscious decision during those months to do little except make great efforts to be together. These times formed new bonds for me that were healing and, to borrow an oft stated Kyle-Saying, "life giving."

My transformation from a morbidly obese couch potato to a relatively healthy guy came to a peak in March as some of the greatest people in the world cheered me on as I finished a half-marathon. What a great experience to pass up several athletic college students who hadn't put near enough effort into training for the run.

The summer was filled with difficult times at work, generally followed by lazy afternoons at the Dugan's pool. I got a lot of sun and fell in love with beer, but mostly had a wonderful time just resting and getting to know people better. It was also at this pool that my friend Karen Thomas was baptized. Karen was the one to be baptized the day tragedy struck. They waited a bit, but when the time seemed right, Jen and David Lake (Kyle's wife and dad,) performed the ordinance. This was one of the most emotional and meaningful experiences of my life-- words fail.

It was also in summer that Tom purchased a house and we moved from the place on Austin Avenue that had become so special to me to another house just a few blocks down.

In late summer I began a relationship with a beautiful female, Jane, who is a black lab-mutt I got from the humane society. I'm a proud papa and don't know what I'd do without that pretty little girl being my friend. She now has a buddy in Ella, who is Tom and Beth's dog, and they are a hoot-- and sometimes a lot of trouble.

As fall came my weeks centered around two days-- Mondays and Fridays. On Monday I began picking the Lake boys up from school and we spend a couple of hours together while Jen and Avery have girl-time. What absolute joy this brings to my life. When we pull away from the school I always say, "Hey, do y'all see those two lakes back there?" Every time they fall for it and sit up to look out the window, realize what I've just done, and Jude says "Craig, you're funny." And my week could end right there.

But it doesn't, since I have to work. And after a hard week of work I began another ritual with Britt, Jonathan, and Josh. We began meeting for happy hour on Fridays early in the fall and, other than Mondays, I feel most alive during these times. What great friends.

The holidays were normal except for the greatest blessing of my year, which was Jason unexpectantly coming to Texas from Thailand for his grandfather's funeral. It was an unfortunate circumstance, but one which gave me time with one of my closest friends who, moreso than perhaps any one else, acts as a mirror and a compass for who I am. It may be more than a year before he and Christy come home, but this little taste will have made it worth the wait.

I also got to spend more time this Christmas with my "surrogate family." This was another blessing, and I don't use the word "blessing" very much except in sarcasm.

And that was, more or less, my year. More on my hopes for next year later. But before I go, no end of the year summary is complete without my annual list of favorites. As I've said in years past, these are not necessarily things that came out or happened in 2006, but which I've experienced this year. I've added some new random categories as well. So here goes...

Five Top Songs

5. Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol--
Yes, it was the sex between Mer and Der with the lost panties and emotions flying high at Denny's death and Izzie saying she's done with being a surgeon that made me fall in love with this song, just like you. I make no excuses and am not ashamed.

4. Summertime by Kenny Chesney--
"Cheap Shades, a tattoo, and a Yoo-Hoo bottle on the floorboard." Corny, of course, but I really dug this tune this summer.

3. All I Need by Matt Kearney-- Another song I downloaded as a result of Grey's Anatomy.

2. Good Ol' Boys Like Me by Don Williams-- "I can still hear the soft southern winds in the live oak trees/ And those Williams boys they still mean a lot to me,/ Hank and Tennesse/ I guess we're all going to be what we're going to be/ So what do you do with Good Ol' Boys like me?" This was the most played song on my Itunes playlist, so I guess I liked it a lot.

1. Everything Glorious by David Crowder-- Early in January I was asked to pray or read something, I can't even remember what it was, at Sunday morning worship service, which was still held at Truett. David introduces this little ditty he had written the week before, and I was useless for the rest of the day and can't believe I got through whatever it was I was doing. Download it. It's a great song, and yes, I'm very biased.

(Honorable Mention: Anything from Brad Paisley's Time Well Wasted album.)

Five Top Books

5. Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement by Lauren Sandler. Wonderful insights of the world I grew up in, but from an outsider. There are tons of books like this one coming out now, but this has been my favorite.

4. The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds. Yeah, I think it was at one time an Oprah book, but so was The Poisonwood Bible, so leave me alone. It's the story of a girl in an extreme fundamentalist Christian community who begins to see glimpses of the outside. It exposes the dark side of fundamentalism, but everyone does that. Reynolds also gives a glimpse into the good that close-knit communities can bring into people's lives.

3. The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. This is a tiny little book on silence, solitude, and simplicity. Very impactful.

2. The Azusa Street Revival by (?) Robeck. I've long been fascinated with the history of Pentacostalism in America. This book was a great look into the birth of the movement. It's written by an insider, but is still extremely objective-- something you don't see much of in the pentecostal, or really any, community these days.

1. Wiseblood by Flannery O'Connor. I read several of O'Connor's short stories early in the year because I've inferred from other things I've read that you have to read her stuff in order to be educated, or something like that. Wiseblood, her first novel, is the story of Hazel Motes who discovers (whether he admits it or not) that age old axiom-- You can try, but you can't run from God.

Five Top Bartenders

5. The guy from La Fiesta that isn't Mikey.
4. The brunette.
3. The blonde with all the tattoos.
2. Mikey.
1. (tie) Stephen and Kelly. (Because they are UBC folk, give better hugs than any other bartenders in town, and occasionally when you ask for the check will print off a blank sheet of paper.)

Five Top Happy Hour Conversations

5. When I talked incessantly about you-know-who and the other you-know-who.
4. When I decided I was done worrying about you-know-who and the other you-know-who.
3. When you-know-who talked about you-know-what with you-know who.
2. When we decided that #4 made happy hour way too boring.
1. When Carney got a free beer after announcing he and Lindsey were having a boy.

Five Top Lake Kid Quotes

5. "There are Penises EVERYWHERE!" : Avery, upon being frustrated with her brothers after running out of the bathroom totally naked.

4. Jude: Craig, tell me again, what is your mom's name?
Me: Pansy
(Pause that lasts at least a minute.)
Jude: Pansy! Haha, that's funny!

3. "Why do they get to swim with their clothes on?" : Sutton, while I was holding him and watching his mom and Grandfather baptize Karen in the Dugan's pool.

2. "It didn't rain on anyone else, just me." : Sutton, after peeing in his pants and telling me it rained today at school before I picked him up.

1. Me: Avery, if I get a puppy, what should I name it?
Avery: Jane.
Me: Yeah, but what if it's a boy?
Avery: Dick.
Me: Alright. Well how about if I get a girl I let you name it, if I get a boy
I let your brothers name it?
Avery: Well, ok. As long as you get a girl.

Top Five Movies

5. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
4. The Departed
3. Rocky Balboa
2. Little Miss Sunshine
1. Stranger than Fiction.

Top Five Grey's Anatomy Moments

5. Burke getting shot while coming back to Seattle Grace to check on
Denny's condition condition.
4. Izzy going down the escalator.
3. Burke telling George that Izzy was waiting standing outside the hospital.
2. Meredith on the floor, consoling Izzy.
1. When Addison walks in the room. Any room.


Well, that's it for me. Thanks for sharing this year with me. For everyone who clicks the buttons to get to my blog, I am overwhelmed and appreciative that you would spend your time reading what I have to say, even during the times it's pure drivel. Thanks, again.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Still Here...

I spent a couple of days in East Texas for Christmas. Had a wonderful time and ate way too much. I'm back, but when I'm not working I'm spending some time relaxing while no one is in town. I didn't realize how physically and emotionally tired I was until things slowed down a bit. I'll have something later in the week for you, maybe even tomorrow.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A break...

I've loved having a little time over the past couple of weeks to do at least a post every two or so days, but it's about to slow down a bit. After today I work six days straight, then head home for a couple of days for Christmas. But this week will be full of it's own Christmas joy for several reasons...

1. Unfortunate circumstances have brought Jason home to Texas. I thought it would be at least six months, possibly a year before I'd have a chance to see him and Christy, but things have changed and they'll be in Waco all week. And I am very, very happy about that.

2. Rocky Balboa. Enough said. And in the words of U.S. Representative (D) Alcee Hastings, "Haters go home."

3. Other assorted visits with people I love.

I'm working on a final "Why I Love this Town." If I post anything this week, that will be it. After that I'll be working on my annual best of post.

I'm looking to do a lot more writing next year, hopefully away from the blog. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know. I'm always afraid of running out of stuff.

In the meantime, if I don't see you, have a wonderful Christmas. Be near the people you love, eat a whole lot, and be thankful that the dawn has come and we are no longer alone.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Why I Love this Town #6...

Of all the harmless lies we* tell ourselves at UBC, none is told (or insinuated) more than this one: We are somewhat baffled and unimpressed with the minor celebrity status of our very own David Crowder Band. We share stories of being outside Waco and running into a DCB fan whose pulse rises at finding out we know THE David Crowder. We then express shock at these people making such a big deal about someone we rarely give a passing thought to.

I suppose in theory our surprise is genuine. But this is only because we have spent time questioning (or, for those of us reared in "the subculture," reassessing) the idea of a "Christian Celebrity." There seems to be something antithetical to the message of Christ in this term, and when we see it applied to someone we see on a semi-regular basis, it can seem out of place, since the idea of "celebrity" implies inaccessibility.

But with that out of the way, let me go ahead and announce to all of you fans that, to varying degrees, we are just as awe-struck as you. Sometimes, more so, because we have experiences, yearnings, thoughts, etc. unique to our community, but which we are unable to articulate with words. Crowder comes along and translates what we are feeling into the universal language of music, and we silently ask ourselves "How did he do that?"

This was one of the many areas in which Kyle was always a step ahead. Unlike many of the rest of us (me included,) he never pretended to be so sophisticated and emotionally mature to have a lukewarm attitude toward the Crowder Band. Kyle, who was probably closer to David anyone, could never hide his amazement and appreciation for the sheer brilliance that Crowder and the rest of the band continuously exhibit. He always received copies of the albums several weeks before they were released, and when Illuminate and A Collision, came out he called me and we would go for a ride in his car and listen to them in their entirety. This is said so much about Kyle that it can seem to be disingenuous, but it's true-- Kyle received Crowder's music as a kid receives gifts on Christmas morning, unable to hide the ecstasy he was feeling at the moment or to retreat behind a facade of intellectual detachment. I don't know this for sure, but I can say with some deal of certainty that if Kyle was out of town and someone screamed with delight at finding out he knew THE David Crowder, Kyle would join in their joy and say "Yeah, I know him!," in the same way Will Farrel said he knew Santa Claus in the movie Elf.

Reason # 6 Why I love this town: Yeah, we know him. And we are just as impressed, in awe, and appreciative as you are.

*Note on my gratuitous use of the word "we" in this post: There are obvious dangers inherent in the use of this word, as it gives the impression that I am speaking on behalf of a group of people who may or may not share my feelings in this matter. I am simply writing as an observer of a group of people to which I happen to belong, not as an official spokesperson.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Potentially Humorous Tidbits (And Another)...

-- Remember when we were kids and couldn't see anything above counter tops and were left to imagine what things may look like on the other side? The other day while the boys and I were getting Sno Cones at Mr. Snow, I picked Jude up so he could see the nice lady who takes care of us every Monday. He looked through the building with wonder in his eye, then asked her, "Where do you sleep in there?" He thought it was her house.

-- I was in the store yesterday and noticed one of the aisles at the end had a "Family Planning" tag. This is where they sell condoms, but I thought about how funny it would be to round the corner with your shopping buggy and see a bunch of families sitting around planning their next few weeks like at a business meeting, with charts and power point presentations going on.

-- I also found it humorous, and quite appropriate, that the section of condoms is sold adjacent to the section selling deoderant.

-- I've had this conversation with others before, but someone pointed out to me that people who grew up in the south say "Buggy" while those in other parts of the country use "Shopping Cart." Which do you use?

(I just posted this and forgot to share the one that spurred my thoughts. Here's that one.)

-- I had a terrifying experience yesterday. Bright red urine. I was peeing blood. When it came out my mind raced-- Kidney Infection, Stones, perhaps something worse? I've heard stories and I didn't want to be one that will one day tell them. I've already had a couple of kidney infections in my lifetime, and I'd prefer to keep it at that. I just knew I was going to have to spend the night in the emergency room, which sucked because I had friends coming in town. But rather than going straight to the doctor I drowned my system with 12 bottles of water in a two hour span. The next pee was slightly pink, and it's been clear since.

After some internet research I discovered the source of my condition. When you put a handful of red M&M's in your mouth, and rather than chew them you let them dissolve, and this is done while drinking water on an empty stomach, the red dye leaks into your system and you pee red. (At least this is what I'm hoping.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Where we are going to be...

I'm sitting in one of the comfortable chairs at Panera, looking across a busy Highway 6 at workers making way for the new Providence Hospital and other assorted commercial edifices. My mind is brought back to this post from July of '05. And so it is happening that there is no longer tall grass in the field, but rather dirt, an incomplete paved road, and trucks moving from one end of the site to the other.

Yesterday the plans for the new Cowboys Stadium to be built in Arlington and ready for play by the '09 season were unveiled at the Arlington Convention Center. The yet-to-be-named stadium will be a stunning architectural innovation while still keeping as a centerpiece the iconic symbol of America's Team-- the hole in the roof. Oh, and as befitting any Jerry Jones production, it will also be very expensive. A billion dollars, to be exact.

There's a fascinating story , of somewhat biblical proportions, in this morning's Washington Post about tension in the Billy Graham family concerning the resting place of America's Preacher and Ruth, his wife. The heir to Graham's organization, Franklin, is planning a theme-park style memorial leading to Billy and Ruth's final resting place. Kind of a Romans Road Dollywood, if you will. Ruth, however, seems insistent that this not happen and that they are, instead, both buried in a more humble setting in the North Carolina hills. The battle seems to be between Ned, the youngest son who sides with his mother, and Franklin, who seems to be garnering silent support from the other siblings, whose ministries receive financial support from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which is run by Franklin. To add intrigue to the story, one of the players is none other than crime writing phenomenon Patricia Cornwell. You can't make this stuff up.

If I learned anything during my seminary career (which lasted a semester,) it was that place not only matters, but volumes are spoken about the character and identity of people, simply by where they choose to be. My opinion is that the Dallas Cowboys belong in a place that only Jerry Jones, in his financial brilliance (evil greed, perhaps?) can provide. It should be shiny and glossy and Texas-big, and it absolutely must have a hole-in-the roof, even if it is a retractable one.

At the risk of inappropriately placing myself in the middle of a family squabble, I think Billy and Ruth Graham's final resting place should reflect the simple faith in which they have modeled to the world over the years.

And, above all, as we are in the middle of Advent, we should take note of the place in which God chose to enter our neighborhood. I wonder how the health and wealth preachers get around a King sleeping in a feeding trough. I also wonder if when we get to heaven our mansions of glory will be a barn and the gold will really be hay. If it was good enough for Jesus, shouldn't it be good enough for us?

So we build and tear down and say this is where we should be. And where we are says this is who we are.

So who are you?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Do you feel what I feel?...

...Bring your past, the joy, the sorrow, all your hope to find tomorrow
And hear the words again, fear not and know that God is near.
-- Steven Curtis Chapman The Miracle of Christmas

(Yeah, I just used an SCC lyric to begin this post. Geez, it's Christmas, cut me some slack.)

A couple of weeks ago while Jude, Sutton, and I were eating Sno Cones, one of them asked if we could call Harris, who was in California. So we called Harris and they both talked to him on the phone.

Harris is in Waco now and came with me yesterday to pick the boys up from school. They were very surprised, and happy. Immediately Sutton's questioning began, and here is my jumbled recollection of what all came out of his mouth. All of this was said within two minutes of us leaving the school parking lot. (Note, the word uh-member is translated from Sutton into English as remember.)...

Um, uh-member Harris, um, um, when we were eating Sno Cones and we called you? Uh-member that? And, um, um, um, uh-member when you came to our school, um, um, um, with Craig and, um, you came to our school and picked us up? Uh-member that Harris? Uh-member that?

Well now we don't have to call you!


Yesterday a good friend preached at the funeral of a five year old boy.

One of my co-workers just had a baby girl, who has spent the past week in ICU on a breathing machine.

The death of a grandfather has brought two people I love home to Texas, one from Seattle the other from Thailand, leaving another one I love on the other side of the world without family for Christmas.

Last night we gathered around Lindsey's rapidly-expanding stomach and talked to Roy Carney, all excited and expectant for they day we will see him.

There are candles lit very near the place where my friend lost his life, each signifying a different aspect of the entry of God into our world.

All around we are calling each other and telling each other, "Hey, let's get together."

The chorus of O, Come, O Come Emmanuel is floating all around the air,
and I am singing it with an ache in my soul
because across the street and across the sea the bullets are flying and
as my friend said the other day, we are all going to keep dying

We all leave each other, sometimes to go home for the day, or just out for lunch, other times to go across the country to attend school. There are times when our leaving takes us across the world, either to serve our country or the poor or God, sometimes all three.

And then there is birth, when the person we want near us is near us, but not quite.
And then there is death, when the person we want near us is near us, but not quite.
And then there is God, who we all feel at times has left us alone, defenseless orphans fending for ourselves.

And this is the message of Christmas: Emanuel. God-is-WITH-us. God has not left us alone. A baby in a manger with a star pointing the way tells us He is near. His being here makes it possible to hope for the day when we will all be here or there, together. Leaving will end.

We will no longer have to call.

So regardless of what anyone tells you to the contrary, Christmas really is all about presence.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Letter...

Dear Mr. President,

I believed there were WMD's because our intelligence, as well as the intelligence of many other developed countries, said there were. (I really just believed because Colin Powell said so.) There were none, but that was ok because I also believed, and still do, that Saddam's refusal to abide by the UN resolutions was justification enough to remove him from office. I guess what I'm telling you is that I supported your decision to go to war. I still do. I believe in all the Churchill--Reagan--Thatcher of good vs. evil, freedom vs. tyranny rhetoric. But we need to have a heart to heart, and this is where it gets difficult.

We lost.

The 9/11 commission said that the terrorist attacks on America occurred because of a failure of imagination, and I believe our defeat in Iraq occurred for the same reason. There was an extreme lack of foresight when we invaded the country.

But mostly, we lost because we were wrong. I was wrong. My naivete led me to believe that everyone, when given the opportunity to live in freedom, where even the rights of the minority were protected, would see it as a no brainer. But apparently this is not so. I was wrong.

I admire you more than I admire most presidents, because you gambled big. But you gambled big and you lost. It's hard to put too fine of a point on it. You lost. We lost. Lost, lost, lost. It hurts to say words like "wrong," and "lost," but sometimes the best thing to do is to swallow the pill whole and admit failure. Not enough troops and poor strategic planning led to a fiasco of epic proportions.

But all is not lost. Your presidency is not lost. I know you believe that leaving Iraq is not an option, but you should rethink this. You will be known as the first president to wage a losing war. But what about also spending your last two years being known as the president who set us on a course to cure our country of it's addiction to oil. ("Addicted to oil," after all, is straight from your mouth.) In doing this you will make middle east violence irrelevant to our peace and security.

When we leave, Iraq will fall apart more than it already has. But this will happen if we leave or if we stay. The factions in Iraq will war with each other until they are fed up with war. It's madness, but sometimes you have to let people play out their madness until they are sick of it. This is not new, it's as old as time. Let it be a civil war. We had one and came out stronger because of it. But let them have their civil war without us being in the crossfire.

I say this as a supporter, not an adversary. The window of opportunity has closed. We lost. But there are probably worse things than losing. Let's not stick around to see what they are.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Breaking the Normal...

I've always believed in angels in theory but have never really had enough faith to think they may actually exist. Yet when I read the scriptural accounts of the birth of the One in whom I've staked my whole life on, I can't turn a single corner without running into an angel. They are everywhere. Announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, telling Elizabeth and Mary the impossible is going on in their bodies, and warning people about the very specific dangers of having a baby known as "king" in your midst. These beings were who God used to intrude on our monotony and make known that things will be different from now on.

Maybe my faith will increase and I will eventually see an angel. For now, though, I'll settle for the hope that comes from believing this is not all there is.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Not a "Why I Love This Town" Post...

Over at Baylor's Campus Living and Learning Department (fancy word for "dorms,") they've been promoting the great postmodern buzzword community for at least six years now. Yet if you want to know what Baylor really feels about the community it is nestled in, look no further than this year's Waco Christmas parade.

Britt, Holly, and I met early for dinner at Ninfa's. I decided the parade might be more enjoyable with a substance other than blood in my blood, so I had a margarita. Since Ninfa's is famous for getting you in and out as quickly as possible, we had some time left over so we made a stop over at Cricket's for a beer. I should have drank more.

The experience wasn't a total disaster. I mean, a night out with friends beats most things in the world. And the fact that the parade was extremely bad didn't totally ruin the evening either. The next best thing to a very good parade is a very bad parade, and this parade was very bad. There were no bands. Most of the entries looked as if they had made a wrong turn onto Austin Avenue and decided to just follow the traffic to city hall, where there seemed to be a crowd gathering for some reason. On top of that there were multiple Santas, which is extremely insensitive to a.) children who still believe in Santa Clause, b.)parents who now have to answer difficult questions about why there were several Santa Clauses and, c.) Santa Clause. The parade was such a joke that we decided to be in on it and joined the procession after the last float went by. We walked the last few blocks waving to the crowd and shaking hands. It was a genius act of humor on my behalf, if I do say so myself.

But the most disappointing thing about the whole fiasco wasn't what was in the parade, but what wasn't. Other than a a modest number of folks in the crowd who appeared to be students, there was no visible Baylor participation in the evening whatsoever. No band. No Greek organization, ROTC, or athletic team. Not even a single member of the administration sat on top of their rich-person car waving at their peasant subjects from the other side of the interstate.

So what? Does a lack of participation in a fourth rate parade validate the perception that the Baylor community is aloof when it comes to Waco civic life?

I think yes.

To be fair, I don't hold the view that Baylor does nothing good for the city of Waco. Institutions aiming to address race, poverty, and other social issues in this town would not survive without participation from the many wonderful Baylor students who have answered what they feel a call from God to cross the interstate and be the presence of Christ by getting their hands dirty in the midst of "the least of these." Yet all to often this assistance is seen as either training for a life in ministry in a more sexy city or as an opportunity to fulfill some organizational requirement for community service.

There is a sense that Baylor is an associate of Waco, and vice versa, but that neither truly belong to the other. Nothing exposes this more clearly than an event that's purpose is to showcase people and groups who value the community, and who the community values. It's time for both the city and the university to stop pretending it cares about the other, and to start caring for the other.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pride in the Desert...

When I disagree with someone theologically, philosophically, or epistemologically, I often have within me the urge to prove that my life is going much better than the life of the person I am at odds with-- That I am truly living life to the fullest and the other is merely existing through their incorrect assessments of reality. It's a sickness, I tell you.

In college, five friends and I went on a Spring Break trip to the Grand Canyon. It was beautifully planned and executed in such a way that only cost each of us $100. (Of course gasoline in '97 hovered around a buck a gallon.) We left early one morning, stopped to spend a night in Santa Fe, stayed a day and two nights in Sedona, three days two nights on the rim of the Canyon, then back , with another night in Santa Fe on the way home. Perfect weather. Perfect places. The only thing about the whole trip that was less than stellar was my attitude.

A member of our group took charge early on. I've never been really sure what a "Type A" personality is, but I know without a doubt this person has it. She planned the trip, made sure we were always on schedule, and on our hikes would want to go a little bit further, regardless of how far away we were from camp in relation to how long the sun would be hanging in the sky. She even set aside daily time for us to sit around and talk about how awesome God is, what he is teaching us, and ponder how anyone could not believe in God after seeing the wonders of nature.


As for me, I was content walking a little, stopping a lot, and just hanging out and resting, without the need for endless chatter. Me and our group leader began the trip on a collision course toward conflict. The other four were stuck between us, taking on the responsibility of keeping us away from each other as much as possible.

During this trip I was just a few months removed from my first overseas experience. Armed with an arrogant belief that my recent travels and exposure to different ideas and cultures made me better equipped to appreciate my surroundings, I made sure everyone knew that my outlook on life was the only true way to experience the fullness Jesus promised. None of you would have liked me on this trip. It's a miracle any of my companions are still my friends.

On our return visit to Santa Fe, we were walking downtown and happened upon a Glee Club from Massachusetts giving an impromptu concert in the town center. It was a wonderful time, one of the few that I believe we all truly enjoyed. At the end of it, as we were walking out to our car, I blurted out that it was=, without a doubt, the best part of the whole trip. But I really didn't believe that. I simply felt that I enjoyed it more than anyone else, so I seized on the opportunity to try and prove that I knew how to live better than the others.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Why is it that someone who is not competitive in the conventional sense of the word has this great need to prove that his beliefs lead to a much better life than someone who believes differently? Why can't I just be content that the way I operate the business of my life is suitable for me, but maybe not someone else. I think perhaps it all comes down to fear-- a fear that if someone else is happier than us, then the way we have chosen is possibly lacking in substance.

God, save me, save us all, from the rat race of spiritual competition. Allow us to be content in you. As the candles of Advent begin to shine brighter, pointing us to your coming, please shine your light on the darkest parts of our souls, eliminating our desire to win and producing within us a desire to live fully in the grace you have given, through your son born that silent night.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Met in Thee Tonight...

It's been a good kind of cold in Central Texas for the past few days. Christmas cold. Enough to make you feel the small-yet-necessary melancholy associated with the holidays, yet not enough to be debilitating cold. After dropping the twins off at their house from our weekly Monday guy-time, I decided to take advantage of this feel in the air by stopping by my local mom-and-pop Christian Superstore.

I've visited The Compass, usually on a whim, about once every couple of months since I've moved to Waco. It's aisles are filled with trinkets, Thomas Kincaide paintings, and a large selection of Christian literature and fashion extolling the virtues of being "souled out" and encouraging believers to F.R.O.G. (fully rely on God.) Holy crap, if you will.

All cynicism aside, though, when at the Compass Christian Superstore I'm often nostalgically taken back to a time in the mid 1980's when my mom would drop me off at Better Books Christian Store in Tyler while she went down the road to find the latest bargains at Marshalls. (I know, it's hard to set cynicism aside with a store named "Better Books.") I was that kid. I didn't shop for the bad books, I was looking for better books. And not just books, "better" music as well. It was at Better Books that I first discovered Amy Grant and, later, DC Talk. While my mom was away I made good use of the tape recorders provided by Better Books to listen to sample christian cassettes. (Can I get a shout-out from my Tyler friends?)

These stores are full of noise. Visual busy-ness. Spiritual arrogance is usually associated with these places. But as I perused the products, all discounted because the store is going out of business in January, I was not overtaken with my usual sense of anger or superiority, but rather of solidarity with the authors and artists represented in the books, music, art and fashion on the shelves. Thomas Kincaide, Joyce Meyer, John Piper, John Bevere, Rick Warren, and even Brian McLaren and David Crowder are getting it wrong a lot of the time. But all of them are saying in unison, with the saints of all ages, "We need God." Some are saying it louder than others, and with far less intellect, thoughtfulness, or reason, yet all are saying it.

I think Christmas comes in the midst of all our striving, working, and being tired. These feelings must have permeated the very first Christmas. Standing in the Compass, I felt the weight of it all bear down on me. Then a soothing voice from my past, Stephen Curtis Chapman, sang quietly over the intercom the words echoed deliberately in the items surrounding me, and subconsciously by all throughout human history who have ever hoped:

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.

Contemplating these words I felt a connected to all of humanity, drawn to the coming of the one who will rescue.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I'm Watching...

I receive a fairly significant discount on books. There are even some books I can check out of the store for a small amount of time. I've got worlds of information at my fingertips, yet the only things I've been able to bring myself to read with any consistency lately are faces.

I love looks. I'd be a photographer, except I don't own a camera.

A couple of weeks ago at a dinner meeting among close friends who call each other "church," I saw a four year old boy turn around in his seat, drape his arms over the back of the chair, and give a distant look-- scanning the crowd as if he were lazily trying interpret the figure in a Monet. He then looked in my direction and gave one of those quiet half-exhale/half-smiles. This look has fueled my soul ever since.

Someone I know gives a confident knowing look when confronted with a complicated scenario that someone brings forth, even though said person has never given an ounce of thought space to said scenario. Yet when something of simple and mundane content is brought up to this person, a look of absolute and chaotic confusion sweeps the canvas of this person's face. It is the anticipation of both of these looks that make it difficult for me to drive a certain stretch of road every day.

I love the looks married people give each other in groups. I've been around enough married couples to know what certain looks mean. One of my favorite party tricks is announcing when one-half of the pair gives the other half the "It's time to go home" look. Anticipating my penchant for look interpretation, many of my couple-friends have taken to certain physical gestures to communicate. I'm learning to read these as well. They are just looks with touch.

Mostly, though, I'm consumed with the looks on the faces of those I no longer see. The wink. The smile. The looks given when no one else is around, when others are around. I will see these looks again, some on this side of the divide, others will have to wait a little while longer. Either way, I'll be looking.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Having received and unprecedented four straight Most School Spirit Awards (aka-- "Biggest Nerd") at Brownsboro High School from 1990-1993, I feel it is my duty to share with my reading public that the my Bears have, for the first time ever, advanced to the State Quarterfinals in football. Next Friday they'll be playing Celina in this glorious holy place...

Go Bears!!