Sunday, December 23, 2007

Advent, the final days...

Years ago I read Phillip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew, and it convinced me that the Hallmark version of the Christmas story we have all grown accustomed to is a little more sterile, and a little less chaotic and frightening than the accounts found in the gospels. An unwanted pregnancy, strange appearances of beings and light, and homelessness all combined for a messy series of events.

Yet I can't help but believe that for at least a few moments that night, as Mary recovered from the labor and Joseph took a break from all the logistical planning that went into raising the Son of God, there was peace. Calm. An assurance that God is most definitely with us.

An this, to me, is the great story of Christmas that we so desperately need every day of the year. The stories of the Exodus speak of a God that delivers. Revelation lets us know that God will make all things right. The epistles tell us that God's way to live is the absolute best way. But a young couple out in a field, watching the one-who-had-been-longed for sigh as he closed his eyes for his first experience of sleep, this tells of a God that is near. A God that, indeed, is with us.

If you happen to read this in the midst of time spent with your loved ones, I tell you, Merry Christmas. May we celebrate the presence of God in our midst by being fully present in the midst of each other.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Advent, Days Seventeen and Eighteen...

Peace is a Top Five Christmas word. Yet peace eludes us, even now. Crime, wars, and disease threaten our very being. Yet peace must be more than an absence of these things. It's a little naive' for someone who is against our wars to demand peace. Don't get me wrong, a world without violence would be infinitely better than a world with it. But was Iraq at peace before we invaded? Will it be at peace when we leave?

And how about us? We live in a relatively safe world. Terrorism, crime, and the threat of deadly accidents occupy a minute portion of thought space, but does this put us at peace?

In Luke 2 the angel sang "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth...peace."

Just ten chapters later Luke records the words of Jesus... "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, but division."

This tells me that the waters of peace are deeper and more treacherous than what we originally thought.

Yet still, we pray for peace, we pray the child sleeping in the night may just yet bring us goodness and light.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Advent, Day Sixteen...

There are some things about the holiday season that I have missed since going to a more nontraditional church.

Four words: Hanging of the Green.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Advent, Day Fifteen...

For all the joy associated with Christmas, there's a requisite light melancholy floating throughout the songs and stories. It's an interesting dissonance. I listen to some versions of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and hear within the melody and lyrics a sadness. Maybe it's a recognition of some kind, that while we wait for the Great Arrival, we often wait in the midst of loneliness.

For me, I often feel Christmas the most walking downtown Waco in the cold of night. There really are few places I know more conducive to realizing the desolate state we are in. For all the life going on around the Austin Avenue area, when the sun goes down, the emptiness arrives. With hands in pockets, eyes gazing forward at vacant structures, and the chill slapping my ears, I'm strolling down a metaphor for my life, and the life of the entire created order. A place that once was, and can be again.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Advent, Day Fourteen...

Over the years there have been a number of replacements when The Great Christian Worship Superstar David Crowder can't make it to church. From time to time the guys and gal from Mosaic down in Austin make it up to UBC. I'll be honest, besides being about the biggest Erin Davis fan around, (Erin plays the cello and saw-- yes, saw-- and is one of the coolest people I've ever had the of knowing,) it's hard for me to get into their music. It's a little too Austin Cool for my ClearChannel ears.

But today they gave me one of those musical experiences that you probably only get a handful of times in your life. Which is to say, they sang a song I've heard and sang numerous of times in my life, but it was as if I were hearing it for the first time. And I'm not just talking about the changes in phrasing and melody. I heard an entirely different song.

Who knew "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" so so powerful? Seth said he sang it like he thought Dylan would sing it. When it was over, I seriously wanted to say "Amen," but I was afraid people may think I was joking.

"For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever-circling years,
Shall come the Age of Gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And all the world give back the song
Which now the angels sing."

Since the evangelical world has begun to slowly embrace Advent, I think we've done a great job with anticipating the celebration of the first arrival of Jesus, while giving a slight head nod to the fact that we are also looking forward to the second arrival. A baby in a manger is a little more fun to think about than the destruction of this world and the coming of our King. I guess, though, this all depends on who you are.

I really have no more thoughts on this, other than that if you haven't read Leif Enger's Peace Like A River, then you need to. When hearing the song this morning, where it spoke of the day when all the world will echo back the songs of the Christmas angels, a description of heaven in Enger's book was about all I could think about...

"Is it fair to say that country is more real than ours? That its stone is harder, its water more drenching — that the weather itself is alert and not just background? Can you endure a witness to its tactile presence?"

Friday, December 14, 2007

Advent, Days Twelve and Thirteen...

I'm taking a two day break from my advents posts. Hope you have been enjoying them. Tomorrow I have the honor of officiating the wedding of my close friends Britt and Holly Duke, so I'm going to dedicate the weekend to that.

But you can talk amongst yourselves. In light of Josh's most recent post, share your favorite all time Christmas movies. I'll give my top three...

3. Love, Actually. I actually love this movie a lot. It reminds me that there are moments of grace waiting to happen all around, if you just look for them.

2. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. "Sometimes I think all that Santa crap's just bull. If he was so real, how come we didn't get squat last year? We didn't do nothin wrong, and we still got the shaft." Enough said.

1. A Christmas Story. I saw this with my third grade Sunday School class at the theater in Tyler after church. I think one of the reason's guys love this so much, at least for me, is the scene where Ralphie beats the living crap out of Scott Fargas. We all had our own Scott Fargas' in our mind.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Advent, Day Eleven...

The 1970's landed in East Texas sometime around 1982. It was around this time that the Nash family of Neches Street found themselves the proud owners of a brand new aluminum Christmas tree. That's right, we were groovy. This tree consisted of a metal pole (festivus, anyone?) with tiny holes to hold in place the tinsel-laden silver and shiny branches. And if you are wondering, the answer is yes-- We had a color wheel. This fine piece of artistic machinery had a large light bulb illuminating a plastic rotating disk with all the primary colors. Drivers by would do a double take-- "Look at the pretty blue aluminum tree! Uh...wait...hold on...IT'S NOW RED!" It is all true. What is now kitsch was once a part of the fabric of my holidays.

I actually feel kind of sinfully prideful that many of you have no clue what I'm talking about.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Advent, Day Ten...

I'm waiting. For what, I'm not quite sure. I suspect at times my waiting is more for that Christmas feeling from the past than for a savior that that has come to redeem my broken life.

Regardless, the candles keep being lit and, before you know it, the dawn will have arrived. Selfish and emotional motives will be blinded by a celebratory light that will continue forever.

Come, Lord Jesus...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Advent, Day Nine...

If I've learned anything about writing from when I first began blogging until now it is this-- Good writing is as much about what you don't write as it is what you do. The same can be said about good sermons. I was told by Kyle early on that you don't have to let your audience know exactly how you came to a thought, you just have to give them the thought. This creates space for spiritual imagination.

When I read the gospel accounts of the nativity, I'm struck by how little detail we are given. There's a lot of material about the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. But other than wise men arriving from the east some time later, we are not given much to go with other than an inn that is full and an available stable out back.

Of all the valuble things the iconography of Catholic and Orthodox traditions have given us, one drawback is all the glowing. It's hard to look at a piece of this art, especially that of the nativity, withoug seeing a glow around everyone involved. Even the sheep sometimes have a glow around their heads.

Yet all my experience with human beings leads me to believe that Mary and Joseph may not have been the most pleasant people to be around during that night. I believe them to be very important, just, and above all else obedient saints whose contribution to the history of the world cannot be diminished. But I've seen video of women in labor. Even in sterile, anasthetized environment, chaos is usually involved.

Oh, and I've also worked the front desk of a hotel. Even the holiest followers of Christ become rough around the edges when denied a room.

I imagine there was a lot of screaming, anger, and doubt swirling around that stable out in the fields that night. And yet I still believe it to have been a holy night. The very humanity of it is what glows to me. The fact that God subjected himself to the fear and discomfort a newborn feels at the first pangs of hunger, this makes the night spiritual. The very power that created the universe, being nursed to strength and health by one he created, this is something special.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Advent, Day Nine...

In the summer of '98 I found myself, once again, in Estonia, a small country on the northeastern shores of the Baltic Sea, just south of Finland. My job was to take care of the dozen or so summer missionaries sent by Baptist Student Ministries around Texas. What it amounted to was a whole lot of travel to places where I just made sure everything was running smoothly.

I let the two students in Nova, a tiny fishing village in the remote northwest corner of the country, know I'd be there on a particular day to visit them. After spending a good half-day in Tallinn, the country's largest city, trying to communicate my need to find a bus to Nova, I was on my way through the forested regions of nowhere. I was able to ask a little old lady on the bus to let me know when we arrived in Nova. Two hours later I asked her again, and she pointed that it was still ahead a bit.

A couple of hours before sundown the bus stopped and the lady gestured that I had arrived at my destination. I looked around and saw absolutely nothing. The last area that looked anything like a town was many stops ago. But she insisted, and I got off.

And I was alone. In the middle of a lonely world, I was alone.

I remember a slight feeling of anxiety that I would not be found. I gave the students I would be visiting a day, but I had no clue what time I would be there. This was before the wide use of cell phones (and there probably wouldn't have been a signal that far out anyway,) and there was no town anywhere to be found to use a pay phone.

So I walked.

The small cringe of fear slowly gave way to a sense of freedom. I was walking down an old abandoned road in a corner of the world that is unknown to most people. No place to rest and the possibility that I was in the wrong part-of-nowhere and would not be found for some time. But still, freedom.

I guess helplessness can do this to a person. When you are in a place where there's really nothing you can do but wait for help, you are free to simply walk.

A lot is made of the fear that must have been felt by Mary and Joseph, carrying a child they had done nothing to receive, stuck in a world without a place to lay, without any hope that things would get better. Maybe this is what kept them walking.
Maybe this is why the angels told them to not be afraid.

Anyway, I was eventually found. Just as we all were at the end of Mary and Joseph's journey.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Advent, Day Eight...

There's something about contrast that makes a story worth reading. When telling people about my love for Cormac McCarthy's The Road, I always have to fend off a nervous preoccupation with what many consider to be the author's tendency toward dark and hopeless plots. Make no mistake about it, McCarthy has an ability to paint human depravity in all of it's frightening detail, and The Road is no exception. But what makes the novel so astonishing is how grand small moments of grace appear against the backdrop of a world that has sunk into the depths. Light shines brightest when the dark is at it's darkest.

Earlier today, as the sun was setting, I stepped outside to look around. On the northwest corner of my back yard is an old building that houses a furniture store. It is one of those businesses that is intent on just holding on as long as it can. If the building was painted before, the color has long since gone away. I was standing in the field that is adjacent to our house. A cold front blew through this morning, and the sun has been behind clouds all day. Being Sunday evening, the streets to east of me, the ones that take people to downtown, were all still. I could hear the buzz of traffic from Waco drive a few blocks down the road, but it was otherwise a rather peaceful moment.

I thought about the week ahead and all the people who make my life worth living. I thought about work and the gifts I still have to buy. In my mind was ringing the words to O, Holy Night and I considered it a blessing to be cold. Because the cold is a perfect metaphor for the state of our world, and of the condition of the human soul. And all this somehow makes the warmth flowing out of a manger long ago just a little more comforting. It draws us closer to the thrill of hope that causes a weary world to rejoice.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Advent, Day Seven...

I've got a few Christmas rituals.

One is reading David Sedaris' Holidays on Ice. I go through this tiny book every holiday season on a few of my lunch breaks. This is about the fourth or fifth year. And it never fails, every single year, I laugh out loud during the first story at the exact same things. If you are looking for something good to pass the days at home, get you a copy.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Advent, Day Six...

I don't believe my story is all that extraordinary. But as I was talking to a close friend about the past couple of years, it's definitely not a story I would have written. Sometimes the unimaginable comes in the most ordinary packages.

I wonder if Mary and Joseph had this thought in their minds after all the pushing was done, the first nursing occurred, and Jesus finally closed his eyes in peaceful sleep. This wasn't in the script. They were to be married, live a little while as a carpenter and his wife and then, when God so chose, have children.

But in the stillness of midnight, with the whole world asleep, oblivious to the fact that all the yearning of all the ages was in the process of being stilled in their midst, this young couple accepted the unimaginable.

And the world would never be the same.

Advent, Day Six...

I don't believe my story is all that extraordinary. But as I was talking to a close friend about the past couple of years, it's definitely not a story I would have written. Sometimes the unimaginable comes in the most ordinary packages.

I wonder if Mary and Joseph had this thought in their minds after all the pushing was done, the first nursing occurred, and Jesus finally closed his eyes in peaceful sleep. This wasn't in the script. They were to be married, live a little while as a carpenter and his wife and then, when God so chose, have children.

But in the stillness of midnight, with the whole world asleep, oblivious to the fact that all the yearning of all the ages was in the process of being stilled in their midst, this young couple accepted the unimaginable.

And the world would never be the same.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Advent, Day Five...

Ex Nihilo is a pretty big deal in Christian theology, if I remember correctly. Creatio Ex Nihilo. Creation out of nothing. Logos gets pretty big billing as well. Logos, word.

Genesis and John tells us all of this was made out of nothing, and it was made by the word. God spoke, and that was it. By his word...

The power of Oprah (Winfrey, that is-- in case you were confused as to what Oprah I was speaking of,) is about the closest thing I can figure to wrap my mind around the concept of creating something out of nothing. I often think about the power of her words. A struggling writer can be down on their luck, drawing a welfare check and wondering how the medical bills will be paid. All it takes is one simple sentence out of Oprah's mouth-- "I like this book by..."-- A sentence. Just a few words that can be said in the span of five seconds can create worlds where they didn't exist before.

I know it's a weak metaphor, but aren't all metaphors weak?

But God had nothing. No book, no author, not even matter-- the substance of existence.

A Word.
Then all.

And this is the power of Christmas. The Word-- the power that made all there is-- in our midst. Breathing the air he created, sharing space with us, his creation. The logos that created it all ex nihilo, in the arms of a young mom scared of what was to come.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

How I'm Insane...

This is not an advent thought, just something funny that happened in my mind at the store today.

Many of you know the history of my relationship with adult beverages. I was well into my twenties before I consumed alcohol. Before that, I believed this to be a sin. My thoughts varied from a cautionary "Well, it may not be wrong in and of itself, but it's not good for your witness," to a more fundamentalist "The very act of putting the stuff in your body is a sin."

I had my first drink alone in my apartment when I was living in Dallas. I did this alone because I still thought I was doing something very wrong. I drank a small amount, just enough for me to come close to getting a buzz. I still had a lifetime of stories (and lies) from preachers and youth ministers about people who died of alcohol poisoning with just one drink.

I moved back to Marshall and ceased my sinful behavior, because of my position at an institution that forbade such activity of it's employees.

When I moved to Waco, things began to change. The subject became a conversation piece, a good struggle that included new thoughts on scripture and culture. I came to the conclusion that the Bible spoke out against a lifestyle of destructive drunkenness, but that total abstinence cannot be found in the whole of the text. This opened the floodgates, literally and figuratively. If scripture was against a "lifestyle of destructive drunkenness," I reasoned, then getting drunk wasn't necessarily wrong. ERGO, Party!!!

Alright, speeding this up to get to the story from the store...

I drank a lot. Not everyday, or even every week. But when I drank, I DRANK.

When I began to try to lose weight and get healthier, and also when I became more comfortable with who I am, the drinking slowly tapered off to where it is now.

Now, I drink. Meaning-- I do happy hour once a week with my friends. When I eat at a Mexican restaurant, I have a Margarita or a Dos Equis. There's usually beer in the refrigerator, but sometimes it takes me weeks before I finish off a six pack. That's about it. I think about it rarely.

Gone is the need to prove how "liberated" I am because I drink.

Or so I thought.

At the store this evening I ran into a new couple from church. I've only met them once, at a Sunday School party, and forgot their names. But we recognized each other and stopped to talk for a bit. We reminded each other who we were, talked a little about church, then said we look forward to seeing each other again. Later, when I saw them in another aisle, I noticed a case of Shiner in their cart. (I'm a cart looker.) I didn't initially think anything of it. But then I began to wonder, "What if they think I'm one of those people who look down on them because they have beer in their cart?" So I did what any mature drinker would do-- I went to the beer aisle to get a six pack. I walked around the store some more, hoping to run into them again so they could see how unjudgemental I was because I also drink beer.

I never ran into them. I laughed out loud at myself. I thought about how funny it was that I wanted to call them(if I had their number) and say, "Hey, I'm not sure if you remember me from the store, but I just wanted to let you know that after I got my oatmeal and bread, I then went to get some beer. You may think I don't believe in drinking, because there was no beer in my cart (if you were looking in my cart, as I was looking in yours,) but I can ASSURE you, I drink. A LOT! I've deconstructed the hell out of the alcohol issue, and I'm liberated. You are probably new to this game, but I've been here all along. So anyway, just wanted to let you know.... I bought beer. Yessiree Bob. Beer, beer, beer."

So, anyway, just thought I'd let you have a glimpse into my idiotic mind.

Advent, Day Four...

There is a Christmas feeling. I feel it periodically throughout December and while knowing everyone SAYS they get into the "Christmas Spirit," I often wonder if the nature of what is going on within them is similar to what is going on in me. I suspect it is, with possible slight variations.

I don't feel it today, though. Today I just feel like I have to go feed the Commercial Christmas Machine. I say, just like you probably say, that I hate the commercial aspects of Christmas. Yet my job insists that I always be cognizant of how many hundreds of thousands of dollars I have to bring in this week. (Around one.)

The good thing is that my meager income makes it easier for me to opt out of the game that is Christmas. I'm not poor in the broad sense of the word, but purchasing gifts for more than a handful of people is just not possible.

Which makes me wonder why we focus on the "less fortunate" this time of the year. We hear the Christmas Spirit is about giving. I believe this to be true because a stable and a manger and a cruel cross and an empty tomb tell me so. But maybe it is more than this. Maybe the reason people give to the Salvation Army and serve in soup kitchens and think about the poor more this time of year is to actually get closer to a way of life we secretly envy. We think about how bad it would be to be in a situation where you can't buy gifts for your family. But isn't there something appealing about this as well?

For me, this Christmas feeling is about the magical word "with." Immanuel- God is "With Us" translates into the greatest story ever, and spurs us to be with each other as well. As I said in one of my Christmas posts last year, let know one fool you-- Christmas really is all about presence.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Advent, Day Three...

The story of Christ, from the beginning the end, is the Great Equalizer of human history. From the dwelling place of cows, oxen, and the occasional transient some two thousand years ago, to the final moment in the indefinite future when he occupies a royal throne, God-With-Us requires response from all who hear. I'm not saying, necessarily, there are only two possible responses. I believe ultimate things are much more complicated than that. But the story is simply too compelling for anyone to hear it and be indifferent. This is true from the lowest to the highest. This rings with truth in the words of one of my favorite Christmas Carols...

"Said the shepherd boy to the little king-- Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king-- Do you know what I know?
A child, a child, shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Advent, Day Two...

Some of my fondest Christmas memories occurred during my college years in Marshall, TX. Home of the Wonderland of Lights, Marshall was one of the first of many communities in East Texas/ Western Louisiana to realize the potential of transforming their lonely downtowns into places where people want to gather when the holidays arrive. There is a skating rink, an on-duty Santa, vendors of hot chocolate and apple cider, and tens of thousands of white lights adorning the historic courthouse and downtown buildings along the red brick streets. All of this adds up to an intentional feeling of Christmas. In content and distance it is far from New York City, but on a cold night where you can see your breath and the crowds begin to thin out (which in Marshall is very early,) there are inklings of this being big-story place where magical things really do happen.

After the fall semester in 1997, I found myself remaining around Marshall until Christmas eve. I was working at Pizza Hut and wouldn't have been able to afford the meager gifts I ended up buying if I had gone home.

Marshall, like most college towns, becomes extremely quiet when semesters end. This particular year was no different. For me, however, it was the first time in my life I learned to allow silence to actually happen to me. After my shifts ended at night, I would drive back to that campus on North Grove that I had grown to love. ETBU was decorated especially festive, and I was the only person around. I spent late nights walking around the "forest of myrtle, pine, and oak" just being quiet and thinking about all the implications of Immanuel-- God with us.

Needing to get away from an unhealthy church situation in a town closer to my home, I had recently joined a small country church out on the country highway on the way to Karnack. On the Sunday before Christmas, I woke up to sub freezing temperatures and a world covered in frost. As I parked and approached the small sanctuary, I realized there were no more than a half-dozen or so cars in the parking lot. I had arrived late, but still made a conscious choice to walk toward the building with slow, deliberate steps. It was one of the most peaceful moments I have ever experienced. I suppose the quiet, desolate atmosphere made me more open to this.

I thought about the previous year and being hurt and the noise and clamor that goes on in cities-- even cities as small as Marshall. I considered the building I was about to walk into and how it would be quiet. I knew the little old lady with purple hair would have made banana bread for the college students still left in town, even though I was the only one. I knew the poor family with a lot of missing teeth would be there and would be so happy to see me. I knew we would sing the most life giving songs ever written-- "Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine, oh what a foretaste of glory divine," and "On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross... so I'll cling to that old rugged cross." Songs that somehow reach deep down into your bones when it's just you and a rag tag group of 10-12 other people huddled together outside of the cold, paralyzing wind.

During that year I learned that hope and healing is found in the quietest of places on the edge of the world and with people and physical structures that don't assume to be anything more than what they are, yet in their humility become the places where God dances at the songs of what God has done.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Advent, Day One.

Somewhere in the Judean countryside lived a couple. They were devout, people of Yahweh. For as long as they could remember, stories of a future deliverance from the powers of this world were told with great expectation.

However, these stories were beginning to grow old. Pipe dreams, they thought. They kept telling the stories and singing the songs, but the anger and disappointment lingered.

It had been many years since the strange light in the sky had appeared, stoking the best flames of expectation seen since the times of the prophets, when the words of God appeared at regular intervals, announcing Good News of salvation.

The light disappeared, and life happened. Tragic, death filled life.

Three decades and countless sleepless nights later, rumors began to trickle into their little town. There was a man, and he was preaching things. Familiar things, yes, but also new things. The words he spoke echoed those of the prophets, but they were laced with a new and very present sense of urgency, of...Now. It was said he spoke the words of Isaiah in his hometown. In other places there were stories of healing.

Yet the thing that caused the most chatter and the most curiosity was all the talk of a New Kingdom.

As the stories ceased being small talk about this crazy character roaming the countryside and grew exponentially into stories of hope and belief and expectation, this couple had one question for those running into town to spread the news.

"How old is he?" They would ask.

Not seeing the relevance of this question, the bearer of the news would continue to tell stories of how he spoke to the Pharisees on the Sabbath and of how a young girl, pronounced dead, had been brought back to life.

"How old is he?"

"A man’s hand was shriveled, but it was made whole again."

"How old?"

The news bearer didn’t feel the old gentleman with the tired eyes, and his wife standing behind him, truly felt the magnitude of what was going on. He looked at them in disbelief at their disbelief. "He's speaking of deliverance, of setting us free."

Angered, the husband grabbed his old friend by his tunic, pulled him close, and insisted, "How old is he?"

In a moment, all was made clear. Slow recognition appeared on the face of the news bearer. He remembered the pain. It was not a pain unique to this couple. It was a pain felt by many of the same age as them. It was the pain of a lifetime of loss.

"I don’t know," he stuttered. Then, quietly and with the hurt of remembrance in his voice, "About 32, 33?"

They were all brought back to that night many years ago. Coming home from evening shared with friends, wondering aloud to each other what the light in the sky might mean, they heard the distant sounds of an army of hoof beats. They went into their houses, blew out the lights illuminating the darkness, and waited.

The soldiers arrived with ferocity. Brutality. Quickness.

The sun arose and the people finally braved coming out into the street. Dust was still floating down. Trickles of blood could be seen on a smattering of doorsteps.

And slowly, the parents of the deceased began carrying lifeless bodies, wrapped in swaddling clothes, out of the house, and toward the burial places. Looking around at the parents, knowledge slowly began to seep into the eyes of everyone in the community.

These were the parents of all the newborn boys.

It was months before they found out why. A jealous king intercepted the men from the east, following the light. They told him of a newborn king. He would have none of it, and their lives would be changed for ever.

These parents slowly returned to work. As much as was possible, life began to seep back into their pores. Yet in many ways they were irreparably crippled. Bound with the disappointment of what could have been, but what was never to be.

And now, here is a man, and he is the age their sons would have been.

What do we make of this? For these families, there was never again to be a silent night. In a roundabout way, their lives were ruined because of Jesus. And not in a Shane Clairborne, Jesus wrecked my life because I can’t get over his social-justice-teaching sort of way. The arrival of Jesus quite literally wrecked their lives.

In Advent, we wait for the arrival of Jesus, Our King. We are reminded of the wreckage, of the death and disappointment and the lifetime of tragic memory we are forced to endure. And we watch, over the horizon, for the light. We stand in solidarity with everyone experiencing the human condition, which IS everyone, and is the condition of totally helplessness, without God and without hope. We live in fear of the hoof beats, but armed with remembrance of the angels’ pronouncements, to the shepherds and to the wise men and to the women at the empty tomb, we see past the coming destruction to a Kingdom without fear, without disappointment, and without death.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Good Enough...

I took a longer, more scenic route home this morning for Thanksgiving. I could just about do Hwy. 31 with my eyes closed, and I needed to get a different view. Heading east on 84, meandering in and out of Farm to Market Roads, then approaching Chandler from the south, I was reminded how stunningly beautiful the area I call home is. My recent Wendell Berry readings, the cold front that pushed through Texas last night, and the fall colors painting the rolling hills of pine and oak just south of Lake Palestine combined to create one of those memorable times on the road.

Instead of my usual auditory diet of old-time country music, I decided instead to listen to a book-on-cd I found last night in the bargain rack of Barnes and Noble. Po Bronson's "Why Do I Love These People?" caught my attention about a year ago, but not enough to actually read it. But the book is about family, so I figured listening to other's stories of their family dis functions and all the ways they have been transformed, redeemed, even ruined by the people they didn't get to choose would be a nice preparation for my annual experience of all the joys and pains of a Nash family Thanksgiving. At one point Bronson made the point that the "And they lived happily ever after..." stories are never as good as those of families who can't stand being with each other, but who somehow, over time, come to terms with how things are, and choose to be together. I tried to bring that with me into Thanksgiving, and I think it helped.

As I've shared before, I have a large extended family. My dad was the eighth of nine children. All his siblings had two or more children, and all but a handful in my generation have in turn had numerous kids. It's a long and wide line of people that look an awful lot alike. For as long as I can remember we've had Thanksgiving out at uncle Johnny and aunt Diane's farm. It's the only place large enough for our clan to roam.

For the past several years, uncle Johnny has done a hayride out on the back-acreage for the slew of little ones, some of whom look forward to this day where they can see cows and horses for an entire year. What usually happens is the young ones jump onto the back of the trailer, along with one or two of their parents. He then yells across the field to see if any of us left would like to go along. Those in my generation say no, we're just fine leaving the hayride fun to the children, we'll sit back and have thirds. But secretly I think we all really want to go along, if anything to rekindle the memories of when we were the little and found things to do out on the farm to entertain ourselves.

Today we acted on our impulses, and the hayride was full of three generations of Nash's. My parents were there, holding on as tight as the could, as were a couple of my cousins (one of whom is trying to fix me up with one of her friends,) and several children, who spent most of the trip throwing hay out so the cows would have a good Thanksgiving dinner. I wondered why I could look upon all these people in my extended family with a feeling of warmth, even with my face wind bitten with the cold breeze. Yet my immediate family takes a little more work to conjure up the same feelings. There's something different about the siblings of your parents and their children that is easier to deal with than your parents and siblings. There's enough distance with extended family to preserve the curiosity necessary for good conversation, yet there's the bond of blood there that keeps you bound to each other. With your immediate family, you are close enough to have grudges AND you are stuck to each other.

Toward the end of the hayride some of the younger boys jumped off to go play in the haystacks of the barn. Pulling up to the back of the house, I noticed the rest of the adults had stopped waiting for us and moved inside, where the fire was spreading warm air all around. I knew what was coming. I would say bye to everyone, my parents would follow me out to the car, and I'd head back west to the family I HAVE chosen. I laughed a little inside at the universality AND uniqueness of my experience. I knew it wasn't happily ever after, but it was good enough. Which is about as much as you can hope for.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Letter...

Dear Jayber Crow,

I recently finished, at the continual suggestion by my friend Josh, reading the story of your fictional life written by Wendell Berry and narrated by you. It took me over a month to get through it, mainly because I didn't want it to end. I found myself deliberately putting it down after a few pages, just to ration out the enjoyment and enrichment I was getting, so it would last longer. I've told others recently, and I'm telling you now-- If your book didn't transform me in ways yet unseen, then at least the desire is there on my part for it to slowly take root and make me into a new person. A better person.

In the past I have read books about small town life and the power of the mundane as a sort of self justification in this internal war I have fought with the agents of progress all around me. Fearing I would be left behind in a culture that is for the quick of feet and mind, I chose instead to hunker down into my romanticized view of an Andy Griffith type world. I chose the path, at least in theory, of the simpleton. The "Everyman." I suppose my reasoning was that eventually the world would come back around to my way of thinking. I would then be proven the true progressive, one that unlocked the treasures of the past unavailable to the masses and their electronic encumbrances.

It was this mode of thinking that pulled me into your book. Yet as I waded further in, I found you were taking me to new places. Places that didn't allow my thoughts on "community" to be used as the trump card in theological, political, and culture discourse. You made me confront the idea that simply throwing a group of people in close proximity to each other doesn't a utopia make.

Your life exposed two alternately dreadful and hopeful truths: Redemption rarely happens quickly, and is never cheap. And, true community is only available to those who take the long view of things, and who avoid, as much as possible, viewing each other as leverage.

My fear is that because I have chosen a place where people are continually just passing through, that I'll never have the opportunity to experience the longevity of loving a group of people the way you have. Though I suppose we are all a part of places where people are just passing through.

I was moved at your humility. I've spent the better part of two years feeling wronged and diminished by people who I believed didn't appreciate what I had to offer. You spent an entire lifetime in which you were largely ignored, even though you were the repository of the collective memory of an entire community. Through it all you rarely showed any emotion other than an extreme gratitude for having a birds eye view. In the end, it seemed your life was given meaning and inertia by this gratitude that eludes many of us.

Above all, I think you showed me the peace that comes from knowing your place. You spoke of the big nuisances and evils of the world in big, constant terms. The War, The Economy, The News, are never things that come and go, but are inevitabilities that will do what they will do. Through it all you had a keen understanding of your place, which served not to diminish, but to increase your value among those you loved.

Jayber Crow, thanks for your story. I will recommend it to anyone.


(Thanks to Robin for her allowing me to use her computer while I wait for the funds to accumulate to get mine fixed.)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


It's looking like I'm going to have to take an extended break from blogging. My computer has either crashed, or has had a serious fender bender. I've gotten several opinions, and most assesments are that the cost will be substantial enough that a broke me (with a newfound car payment) will have to wait a few pay periods before I can throw down that kind of cash.

I'll still be able to check my email and facebook before and after work, but I'd feel wrong about using the company's computer to compose a blog (like I'm doing now on my time off.)

If you need to get a hold of me, my email is

And check back in a few weeks...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Future Legend...

I think the Lord made me alert during the writing of the previous post just so I could witness Jason Witten run a quarter of the length of the field without his helmet.

Morning Ritual...

I tried to get my dog to understand that because of farmers, or something, we have this thing in the United States called "Daylight Savings Time," and that the clock changes a couple of times a year. I used charts, graphs, and just a good old-fashioned pep talk to get her to adjust her time clock. But because she didn't understand, I was awakened at 4:00 this morning and am drifting in and out of sleep at 9:00 watching the Cowboys. She is sound asleep.

Jane sleeps on the floor to the left of my bed. When she first wakes up, she sits down next to the bed staring at me. If I don't give her attention after a few moments, she taps her paw one time on the bed near my face. If I don't get up then, she taps it twice. Usually about this time I roll over to the right side of the bed, at which point she just walks around the corner and begins the process all over again, until I finally get her up to take her out.

One funny dog...

Friday, November 02, 2007

Thoughts on Grey's...

Grey's Anatomy has lost it's way.

In times past the drama was compelling because, although the story lines may have been far-fetched, the complexity of human emotions mixed with difficult situations was exposed in all it's rawness. Izzie and her terminally ill Denny drew us in because it was just about that-- A doctor falls in love with her patient and experiences unspeakable grief at his death. The story of Meredith and her mother suffering from Alzheimer's was just about that-- The strange conglomeration of love and helplessness many of us feel toward our parents and children. And in my opinion the peak of the shows greatness, when Meredith is in the O.R. holding on to that bomb embedded in the patient's chest while chaos is going on all throughout the hospital, with Anna Nalick singing "There's a light at each end of the tunnel, you shout/ 'Cause you're just as far in as you'll ever be out," and "Life's like an hourglass glued to the table..." This was about what it was about-- How fragile this skin and bones and blood is that we all inhabit, and that inhabits us.

People love hospital dramas because a hospital is a built in metaphor for the condition we are all in. Hospitals need no help in reminding us how bad The Fall was for humanity. Their very existence speaks to part of the great (Christian) story, which is that we are all terminal.

So when extra little metaphors started creeping in, I began to feel a little nauseous. I'm not sure when it began, but it found it's lowest moment last night. Dr. Torres, dealing with the dissolution of her marriage to George and trying to move on, is standing in the pit waiting for an ambulance to come in. When it does and the two victims come out, holding a wedding dress, I almost lost it. The two were in one of those contests were the last one holding the dress wins a $100,000 wedding package. Do you get it? Callie struggling to let go of her marriage, these two women struggling NOT to let go of a wedding dress (and by extension, proving the legitimacy of their love for their future husbands?) Vomit. Enough already.

If only life were that simple. But it's not. Never have I been going through a difficult situation in life when a customer miraculously appears in my store with a similar situation that helps me sort through my issues, giving me the miraculous "Aha!" moment we are all looking for. The truly shitty things in our lives remain with us, trudged through, dealt with, put on the back burner, then allowed to simmer again when all our other ducks get put in a row. If we are lucky enough, we have our Christina's and Izzie's and George's who walk beside us, reminding us who we are and that we are all, this side of glory, in jacked up places, and helping us put one foot in front of the other. Cute metaphors are few and far between.

But, the prophet was right about one thing... I am loyal. Many shows have been revived to their glory days, and I'm still holding out hope. Watching and waiting.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

What to become...

"Funny which words stick around 20 years down when you're driving alone..."
Mat Kearney, What's a Boy to Do?

I was prophesied over once. I know, crazy huh? I mean, who the hell knows? Do these people just give some generic prophecy that many years down can be made to fit any interpretation of a sequence of events? Or is it something that once they put the words into motion, you live your life in such a way to make those things happen? The options are numerous. But what about the non-cynical option? What if there are prophets among us with some strange connection to God who are really speaking for Him?

I have my doubts.

Regardless, I was still prophesied over once. The guy told me I was a rock. He said my strength was my loyalty, that I remain. And then he told me I would fly all over the world like a bird, or a rocket, expanding the kingdom of God.

Today I spent a lot of time making change for people, putting together book displays, and listening to annoying people who don't know what they want, but expected me to. While I know (and fully live by the fact) that the kingdom exists in strange corners of the earth and through different means, I doubt this was what he had in mind. I'm pretty sure he was thinking of something a little more wild, evangelical. A little more Billy Graham, a little less American Joe.

The difficult thing is that these are wait-and-see experiences-- still in the making, yet probably a long way off. I guess I'll always remain loyal, perhaps even to a fault. But a rock and flying like a bird or a rocket, not sure if I'll ever pull that off.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Brandon was a resident in Feagin Hall at ETBU when I was the director. We always had a good cordial acquaintance, but were mainly friends through Robert. Brandon was, and is, one of the funniest people I know and a better person to be around would be hard to find. One of the greatest things about the past couple of months is that Brandon is now my neighbor. I discovered he moved to Waco then later discovered he lives two door down. Fate, and a little bit of romance brought him to Waco. The romance ended, but he's still around and for that I'm grateful.

One thing a lot of people don't know is that Brandon is an amazing writer. The quote below is from his "About Me" section on his Facebook and MySpace. Hope you enjoy...

When I was younger I had it all; fame, fortune, good looks, popularity, power, and prestige. My life was good. I was the envy of all my friends. But I had one dark secret that loomed over me like the ominous grey skies of a cold rainy mid-winter day. I knew that if that secret ever got out, it would be my downfall. So, I vowed to guard it with my life. As a result, I could never let anyone get too close. People tried, but every time I felt threatened I would cut them off. I was a vicious heart breaker. My love life stayed in constant turmoil. But then one day, I met a girl who loved me so completely, so freely, that I felt compelled to share my burden with her. I was tired of living a double life, of constantly hiding in the shadows, lying to protect myself. I wanted to come clean and start a new life; quit running, maybe settle down. But I never got that chance. At the end of the year, the girl I loved suddenly moved away. I was devastated. I didn't understand. We were young lovers, perhaps too young. I longed to go after her, the only true happiness I’d ever known, but there was nothing I could do. After all, we were both just in third grade. I never got to tell her….that I still wet the bed.

Yep, that's Brandon.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Dos Anos...

"...and the psalmist says 'God has always been our dwelling place,' always has been, always will be, still is for Kyle and for you. So here is a notion today that you might cherish and imagine-- The reality, the realm in which we all exist connects us in living communion. And I'm imagining that today. I'm imagining Kyle smiling about that too. In some sense waiting for us all, but waiting beyond time. So maybe somehow for Kyle it's all in this great eternal now, I imagine him smiling because in some miraculous way that we can't understand here, he is smiling because we are with him. As the poet said 'There has to be another time, there has to be another place, where all the love you ever missed, is given by the Father's grace.' So he's smiling because somehow, in eternity, we are together."

--Burt Burleson in the sermon for Kyle Lake's funeral.

Occasionally one of the Lake kids will ask me how old Kyle is, present tense. I try my best to do the math out loud, reminding them that he was 33 when he died and that was two years ago so now he would have been 35. They accept the reminder wholeheartedly, but I'm expecting and dreading a day when the follow-up question becomes, "So, how old his he? 33 or 35?" It never ceases to blow my mind the depths children dive in their minds to try to figure out the complexities of reality.

Some of the most beautiful words I've ever heard were given by Burt Burleson at the funeral. I've been to numerous funerals in my life. I've heard meaningful sermons about the beauty of a life well-lived and a good amount of calls to cherish our future hope. Yet Burt's message transcended ideas of past and future. It brought time, experience, and yearning all together into a seed that, if those of us who heard the words allow them, has flowered into our very present lives. He spoke of the communion of saints and how we are all, the living and the dead, on a journey to our creator. And we are on a journey together.

Today, along with experiencing a continued sadness, I am trying to live in gratitude. My heart overflows with thankfulness for autumn and for days off of work that have helped to center and give perspective...for time spent over the past few days with Blake, Jason, Christy, Mark, Brandon, Josh, Lindsay, Roy, Tony, Melissa, Matt, and Brooke...for the upcoming weddings of Britt and Holly, Jason and Stony...for being able to protect Jude and Sutton from the wasps at the park yesterday...for still being able to pick Avery up, if only for a little while longer...But mostly, today, I remember and am grateful, truly grateful, that I had five years to be friends with, to learn with and under, to laugh with and at (and be laughed at by,) to eat and drink with, to argue and struggle with, one of the greatest saints, Kyle Lake. And I'm thankful that, in some strange way I've yet to fully understand, he is still with us, on the great journey to the One in whom we live, move, and have our being.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I'll tell you what I like about Joel Osteen. He never seems to be concerned with answering his critics. I've seen him interviewed a handful of times on news programs and every last journalist, regardless of the subject at hand, wants to bring up the differences other people have with Osteen's message and get a feel for his response. It's an obvious bait. But he never falls for it. Yet it's not the type of silence us cool emergents give, almost as if we are above being pulled into futile arguments over "old questions" that will have no resolution and will prove that no one will ever understand us. His restraint seems (to me, anyway) to be solely out of a conviction that goodwill should exist among people with differing messages.

I've been reading up on the Baha'i faith. Followers of Baha'i don't worship a deity per se, but rather celebrate an amorphous idea of diversity. Unity seems to be the object of their affections, a shared table where every idea is equally valid the goal. I'll never be a Baha'i an. I'll always believe there are some ideals and beliefs (including many espoused by Joel Osteen) that deserve to be questioned and spoken out against.

With that said, I still think that we spend way too much time defining ourselves by pointing out the chasm between ourselves and others. We are not, to loosely quote from Chocolat, defining ourselves by what we embrace, but rather by those we disagree with. It happens in pulpits across America, even those seeking to hover "above the line." In an otherwise meaningful and substantive sermon I have heard recently, the speaker used a clip of a well-known fundamentalist pastor in a debate with a well-known emergent pastor over the practice of churches offering yoga classes to their congregants. Both gave compelling arguments from their epistemological and theological backgrounds, ones that would have one over their respective followers. It's no secret which side the speaker (and myself, for that matter) fell on the debate. From my perspective, the fundamentalist was made to look foolish. From the perspective of some of my friends, he probably looked as intelligent as he could possibly be. But, in the end, was this device necessary? The obvious intent was to use an easy target to hit a bulls eye in front of friendly listeners.

I've recently read A.J. Jacobs' book The Year of Living Biblically. A writer for Esquire, Jacobs is one of the millions of Americans who, since the beginning of the Bush presidency, has become fascinated with the influence the Bible has on so many. He sought to get inside the world of the Bible and live out all the laws and rules, including the ones that time has made irrelevant, as close as possible. To do this, he found several different groups of people who follow certain precepts to the core, and he hung out with them. He visited numerous Orthodox Jews, a Creationism museum, Amish, and Jehova's Witnesses.

On a trip to Tennessee, he visited Jimmy Morrow, the pastor of a snake handling church in rural Appalachia. An agnostic, Jacobs could have said any number of divisive and contentious things about these people who occupy the far margins of our society, but he didn't. He was kind and respectful. His conclusion was extremely moving. He said when he was safely back in Manhattan he began to have this great concern for Jimmy Morrow. He had a great urge to call Morrow up and tell him to stop handling snakes. Of all the religious people he had met during the previous year, Morrow, an uneducated man with a vastly different worldview, was by far the one he liked the most. An he put his life on the line every time he handled a snake, and Jacobs wanted to protect him.

How many of us, followers of Jesus, can say we possess this kind of goodwill for those we disagree with? What would happen if we spoke out against the televangelists of our day not because they are silly caricatures, but because we genuinely are concerned with the damage their theology does, not just to their followers, but to themselves? I know this gets into murky waters with the dangers of patronization lurking on every corner, but it seems like a healthy ideal to shoot for.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Just Miss...

Many of you know what a huge fan I am of Bob Phillips and Texas Country Reporter. When I was a kid we would pick up the antenna signal of several Dallas stations. The show was then on Channel 8 out of Dallas and was called 8 Country Reporter. Back then it came on early Saturday evenings, and I would watch it just before I switched over to NWA Wrestling on WTBS. (Yes, I was alive when there was a "W" in front of "TBS.") I was always fascinated with Phillips' stories about the out of reach places in Texas. He has always had a knack for finding those characters and stories that no on else in the world cares about, except in novels celebrating the idea of small-town life. These are the people and narratives that are in theory celebrated, yet in reality disdained by the intelligentsia.

In recent years I catch the show here and there, as it comes on sporadically and at odd times here in Waco. But I'm still a fan.

After packing up camp and getting ready to come home on Thursday, I decided to take a stroll through Jefferson. When I'm around the area I always love stepping into the General Store there and sampling the various array of Jams, Jellies, Salsa and Apple Butter. As I walked in I saw a sign that said that a local poet would be there in the afternoon for a booksigning at noon, and would be interviewed by Bob Phillips, THE Texas Country Reporter at 2:00. I looked down at my watch. It was 4:00.


I asked the lady at the counter if Phillips was still around, and she told me he had left about twenty minutes before, but that he might still be around town. I walked around and never found him.

Oh well. Someday.

Friday, October 26, 2007

After purchasing some necessities, I arrived at Caddo Lake State Park early on Monday afternoon. I was on the front end of the cold front, which I have learned after many years of watching the Weather Channel, usually means rain. But in a place like Caddo, heavy rains usually means you can stay dry under the canopy of Cypress and Pine until a big wind blows through and shakes the water off the trees, which happens about every two minutes.

So I set up the tent, got in it, and slept one of the longest, most peaceful naps in recent memory.

The next couple of days were spent walking, sitting in front of a fire, and reading. But mostly, a lot of just sitting and being quiet. I needed the past few months to leak out of me, and that's what I tried to facilitate. The great thing is that I had the entire park to myself. This is the advantage to being childless-- You can take your vacations during times when normal vacationers are at school and work.

Utter silence is what I was surrounded by, and it was healing.

I finished reading A.J. Jacob's The Year of Living Biblically and began reading Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow. Look for posts about both soon. In the meantime, here's some pictures. (They actually aren't from this trip, but from a trip I took earlier in the year. I found the roll of film when I was cleaning out the Talon to part ways.)

Monday, October 22, 2007


After a truly great time at Brent's wedding Saturday, church yesterday and a visit to Soma, my friend Tony and Melissa's wonderful new church, and an as-always special time with them, I'm now in Marshall. Heading out to Caddo Lake.

After talking with Tony and Melissa last night, I realize why I try to come out here as much as I can. Any other time-off activities make the days go by so damn fast. But nothing goes by fast at Caddo Lake. Time moves so slow it is almost in reverse.

So I'll be there for a few days, just sitting, reading. An the great thing is, I'm on the front end of the Great First Cold Front of the year.

So take care. There probably won't be another post from me until much later in the week.

Friday, October 19, 2007


If you think you live an uneventful life, think again. It's Friday night, 10:00p.m. and I just spent the evening watching a recording of the Waco City Council's work session on the Cable Access Channel.

I know, I know, I need to slow it down a little. But you can't stop me. I'm living on the wild side for my vacation, which began this afternoon.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Vote Now, Vote Often...

One of my links on the left is to Mike and Melissa Pond, some old school UBC'ers and about the greatest people you are likely to find anywhere. Check out their blog with all the pics of their beautiful baby Noelle.


Once you've realized that I'm not kidding, this kid IS extemely beautiful, then let the world, or at least the DFW Metroplex know. Click HERE to vote for Noelle in the KissFM Most Kissable Baby Contest. Noelle Pond's picture is about halfway down the page. Let's bring this kid to victory!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I'm about to begin a much needed vacation. For some reason I'm at a time in my life when I feel like the only one around who is dying inside. All I've got is a life that was and a life I believe may someday be, but in the purgatory that is now only a few grains of goodness scattered in the weeds. In many ways I'm dealing with the universal issues of identity and worth that the great Christian theologian and poet Michael W. Smith sang about many years ago when he talked about his place in this world. So, all that to say, I need a break from this place.

Here's my itinerary... Saturday I'm heading to Dallas for my good friend Brent's wedding. I'll be back in Waco for church and hopefully lunch with friends on Sunday, then in the afternoon I'll be heading to Tyler to hang out with the Herrings and to visit Soma, their new church. Early Monday I'll be heading far east to the Carthage area to stop by the graves of my grandparents. I'll spend the next two or three days camping out in Caddo Lake. Hoping to get some good reading and possibly writing done during that time, but mostly just relaxation. I'll be back around Waco toward the end of next week and will play it by ear for that weekend. I don't have to be back at work until the Devil's Birthday, praise Jesus.

If any of you who read this reside between here and any of the aforementioned theres, I'd love to sit down and shoot the bull over a cup of coffee, if you are so inclined.

That's about it for now.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I am struggling to find time to write. I'm also struggling to find things to write. Somebody help me.

Monday, October 15, 2007


This afternoon Avery, Sutton and I went to the Waco Art Center to take a look at the Steve McCurry exhibit. I'm pretty ignorant of what seperates good photography from excellent photography, but his is one of those talents that requires very little imagination to figure out that he is one of the best. It was my fourth time to visit the exhibit, and I'm continually amazed that we have something like it in Waco.

Ocassionally when I have the kids I'll try to do something that's a little more substantative than analyzing Zach and Cody's "suite life." It rarely works. They remain interested for a few moments then return to being children, as they should be. But by the end of the afternoon, I was glad we came. We played a game where I pretended I was blind and had the kids walk me around and describe the photos for me.

Before that, though, when we walked in we saw McCurry's most famous subject, and one of the most recognized photographs in history, Sharbat Gula, also known as Afghan Girl. The kids were unimpressed, which disappointed me a bit. But I found it interesting that when we found the photograph taken of the Afghan Girl just a few years ago, Avery needed no help in noticing that it was the same girl. We walked by the adult picture, she looked up, and shrugged "It's the same person." I asked how she know it, because the first one was a girl and the second an adult.

"She has the same pretty eyes," Avery said.

I'm not being paid by the Waco Art Center, but you should really check it out if you are in town. It's going on until the end of next March.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Here, There, Everywhere...

It's Sunday night. Needing to get a few weekly food items, I drove down Bosque to the grocery store. On my way past the Fair Grounds, I remembered something I learned in Sunday School as a child. God is everywhere. Later I learned the word omnipresent , which sounds much more intelligent, but doesn't carry the same punch as saying God is everywhere.

This past week was the Heart of Texas Fair and Rodeo. Last night was the last night. Tonight, in the darkness, surrounded by a breeze that wants desperately to be cool, and in the midst of gathering rain, the fair grounds are desolate, despite the numerous displays and attractions that have yet to be disassembled. I imagine the wind blowing through the asphalt and exhibit buildings, thrashing about discarded tickets, popped balloons, and the remains of what amounts to junk mail collected at vendor booths.

I suppose if God is everywhere, if God is, indeed, omnipresent, then the Holy Spirit is having a field day in this insignificant corner of the world, abandoned temporarily by human activity. I also suppose this thought doesn't excite many people, me included. Speaking of God's everywhere-presence carries little weight when the setting doesn't lend to our lives being important. Plots of land existing a day after massive activity has ceased lends nothing to my striving to be consequential. They are just places with wind and junk and the ghosts of revelers past.

Driving by the fairgrounds, contemplating the emptiness of it all, I thought of loss. I thought of how we are all walking around with the weight of loss, both experienced and inevitable, and how in many ways loss defines the condition we are in. We once were lost, now we're found, once were blind, now we have sight-- But we just keep losing until the end.

In light of all this, all we have to offer is a scratched-voice cry for help. Luckily, God is here, present, ready to fill the empty spaces, even has he dances along the trash filled streets of a now-over county fair.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

New Wheels...

Driving something a little beat up and a little out of the ordinary is a good way to be recognized. Driving it for almost ten years will in some ways marry your image to the image of that car. Such has been the case with a little red '96 Eagle Talon and me. If someone sees a car that looks like that car, it is likely me behind the wheel. The rusted black rooftop, spider-web crack in the windshield, missing driver side mirror coupled with a door handle that doesn't work on the driver's side, all say one thing-- Craig.

But no more. After years of prodding from those who love me most, I'm now driving a new car. '96 Eagle Talon has gone to the graveyard of 16-year old's first vehicles, and in it's place '07 Saturn Ion has emerged. I'm now a mortal, just like the rest of Waco.

Damn, I'll miss that Talon.

Who am I kidding? No I won't.

I will, however, miss the feeling of not having a car payment due at the end of the month.

Monday, October 08, 2007


5-0 (By the grace of the Almighty.)

Still Here...

I read something recently that addressed the state of the blog. It spoke of how "wired" the whole world is and how bloggers have to constantly be updating their site or it gets ignored. One pastor of a fairly large church resigned his position just so he could minister to the world through his blog. Another blogger stated that if he went more than six hours without posting even the slightest "I have nothing to say," then he would start to receive emails wondering if he was ok.

This is constantly in my mind. I've been spending a lot of time just taking care of myself and my dog, and working. But there's always that voice that says if I wait much longer to start writing, then people will stop reading. And, over the past few years, some of my self-worth has been based on knowing many of you are reading. I've recognized this and have tried to deliberately pace myself with everything I do.

So this is me saying thanks for reading, and be patient. I'm trying to prioritize.

But I'll give you a tiny nugget of something insignificant, but somewhat humorous, going on in my life-- You know those movies that give voices to animals? And how extremely awesome they are? Well lately, in my mind, I've given a voice to my dog Jane. It's the voice of Queen Latifah.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I believe in the "T" of Tulip...

(Fair Warning: F-Bomb contained herein)

This isn't a post about injustice or racism. It's about depravity.

In all the media frenzy over the injustices being done in Jena, La., the thing I hear most often from commentators is some version of "Can you believe people are still acting like this in 2007?" And it's not just with this situation. I watch a lot of cable news, probably way too much. This entire genre of journalism thrives on filling what used to be empty hours for news with the tales of the idiotic. It's really just Cops for the white collar crowd.

Over and over what do we hear? "Can you believe people actually act this way and do these things?"

And I just sit back on the couch and shake my head in wonder at the surprise of the elite that the human race is so extremely messed up. My only thought is that anyone who would be shocked at the behavior of people has never in their lives been responsible for the restrooms of a retail establishment.

Over the course of five years, spend hours plunging toilets, cleaning defecation off walls, and mopping sexual fluids off the floor, and then assess whether or not you can believe that people are fundamentally jacked up. A former, now deceased pastor and friend of mine would describe this condition as us being "Totally fucked up individuals," and I can't think of a phrase that better describes the state we are in.

Anyway, all that to say... No CNN and MSNBC, I'm not surprised. I actually CAN believe people are still acting this way. Here's a plunger, come see for yourself.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Don't let them all fly by...

Ask the Lake kids what Craig's favorite day of the week is and they will tell you "Monday." Ask them why and they will say "Because he loves us and he gets to see us on Mondays." They'll tell you this because they have been trained to. They'll also say it in a monotone disinterest, acting bored at such an obvious fact.

A typical Monday has me getting off of work around 3:00, heading home to change clothes, then waiting on the front porch with my dog. Since the house I'm now living in is just around the corner from the kids' school, it is not a long wait.

It used to be that when Jude first saw me he'd come running with his arms open wide for a hug. Today, however, I got a cursory wave and a "Hi, Craig," as he bolted toward Jane. He loves that dog so much. Jen tells me he sometimes mentions her in his nightly prayers for the things he is thankful for. She is resting quietly on the floor beside me right now, and perhaps this is her doing the same. Who knows?

After taking Avery and Jude to help me run an errand, (We are rotating weeks where Jen has one kid, I have two,) we then went over to MLK park for a few minutes of play. When we got back to the house I had Avery and Jude take turns walking Jane. She is so good with them. With me she runs against the leash, coming close to pulling my arm off. With them, however, she was calm and relaxed, as if she were training them in the ways of the world.

By this point my old friend and new neighbor Brandon Durham had ridden up and was hanging out on our front porch. (Have I mentioned I have a front porch?) I suggested to the kids that we join him as we were waiting for their mom and Sutton to return. I told them we could sit on the front porch like old people and talk about our tomato crops, fig preserves, and pickled okra. Pulling the humor from my past, I didn't expect any reaction. But both Jude and Avery gave a hearty chuckle, as if they understood all the nuances of nostalgia and East Texas folklore. I suppose, though, it was just that the words "fig preserves" and "pickled okra" are funny on the ears, especially if they are not a part of your common lexicon.

Jen eventually drove up and she and Sutton got out of the vehicle to visit for a bit before she had to take them all to get ready for a soccer game. We shot the bull, our conversation running the gamut from tatoos to landscaping, to lying to the kids about the "Coke" bottle caps they found on the porch. (They were "Miller Lite" caps.)

After the Lake clan headed off, I sat with Brandon, talking about our days, my upcoming vacation, and what a great dog Jane is. In the midst of all this Britt dropped by. He was running his final errand of the day, taking his office deposit to the bank across the street, so he stopped by to say hello. I introduced him to Brandon, trying to make the requisite connections, which was easy because both grew up in East Texas.

Brandon went on his way to work related chores while Britt and I remained. Then Holly, Britt's fiance' and my down-the-street neighbor showed up and more talking about days ensued. We were all hungry and so they suggested we head out to China Spring from Zebbs Grill, or something like that. Since it was Monday and Monday's are always the day I begin and end my commitment to healthy eating, I thought why the hell not? So we went and we ate and enjoyed each other's company.

Later I was walking Jane and the words to a Keith Urban song got lodged in my head and I realized once again that these mundane days are about all we've got. But they've been given and that giving is a gift. And the best response is the opening of hands in acceptance, acknowledging the Gift Giver as merciful, graceful, and full of all-that-is-good-about-Mondays.

...what's your hurry, son, slow it down
taste wild honey, listen to the sound
of the wind that blowing through the trees
river is flowing to the sea
yeah they're all heading home just like you and me
life's for living, boy can't you see
that these are the days that we'll remember...
--Keith Urban, These Are the Days

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Kindness of Strangers...

My first vehicle was a 1986 Chevy S-10. A small white truck with manual transmission, it was good enough. Good enough to get me to high school and good enough to hold an old mattress in the back for months, because I was too lazy to take it to the dump when I got a new bed. This latter fact was the cause for much humor among my friends, suggesting a mystique about my love life that was out of sync with what was reality. The truck wasn't, however, good enough to make it to Oklahoma City via Wichita Falls, which landed me on the receiving end of a generous act of kindness by a stranger.

My sister had a friend in Wichita Falls, I had a friend in Oklahoma City, and my parents had a fear of us driving anywhere in that old pickup truck. But after high school, the tug to assert our independence and create geographical distance was stronger than any arguments on behalf of common sense. So we set out to visit friends.

The plan was to drive through the Metroplex and dump my sister off in Wichita Falls as quick as possible. I would then drive north toward Oklahoma City and experience my first real vacation as an adult. Somewhere around Forney, on the east side of Dallas, the little white truck began to overheat. I pulled over and waited for a mechanic to open, at which point I was advised that the truck wouldn't make it very far. This wasn't good enough for me. What this pagan didn't know was that I had the secret power of prayer on my side, and this would get me to Oklahoma and back with no problems. I would just stop every twenty or so miles to rest the engine.

And this did work, for a while. We rolled into Wichita Falls several hours later, engine puttering but still moving us forward. Yet after dropping my sister off at her friend's apartment, the truck wouldn't start. I called a garage, who sent a tow truck over to pick it up. Sitting in the lobby of the garage was like waiting for news in the hospital waiting room.

I wasn't consciously thinking this, but I was sitting there awaiting bad news because I was trying to escape. We've all been there. Adult enough at 20 to be mobile, child enough to wander, I wanted to be anywhere other than with my parents. The diagnosis would determine whether or not my escape would be complete.

I knew (and know) nothing about car language, but I knew the words "cracked block" couldn't be good. I definitely knew enough about money to understand that $1600 wasn't good either, since that's not a lot less than the actual cost of the truck.

A nervous call to my dad revealed a truth about good parents-- A concern for their children's safety is always greater than anger over poor decisions. Oh, there was anger, but it wasn't all consuming. My parents showed me more grace than I deserved (which, I suppose, is the very definition of grace) and offered to pay to have the truck fixed. And if my friend would pick me up, then they would drive to Wichita Falls to take care of the truck.

My friend, also showing more grace than my friendship probably merited, agreed to drive the two and a half hours to pick me up.

I sat in the lobby of the garage, late in the afternoon, happy that things were working out, a little embarrassed at the situation I found myself in. It was closing time and I was about to be run off. I supposed I would have to wait outside for my friend. But as he was leaving, the guy who drove the tow truck for the garage offered to take me to his house to have dinner with his family.

And so I found myself in a lower-middle class neighborhood on the outskirts of a relatively insignificant middle-sized city, eating dinner with a family who had an oversized sense of kindness and hospitality. Looking back on how I carried myself back then, I suppose I was maybe a little too interested in whether or not my hosts "knew the Lord," and probably even tried to wedge a mention of Jesus into the conversation. I presumed they had Catholic leanings, because they were hispanic, but I couldn't be sure.

But I guess how I viewed them, in retrospect, is kind of irrelevant. Looking back all I can remember is that a small blip of my life was spent with a family who took a chance on giving kindness to a stranger. The funny thing about people like this is, when you talk to them, they don't see it as "taking a chance." They are agents of grace. They don't concern themselves with accolades or praise, but they "do unto others" in ways that most of us struggle muster enough courage to even consider.

I don't remember the family's name, or even the name of the mechanic. That was so many years ago. I doubt they even think about me. But I like to think that meal, discussing life and awaiting redemption, has lingered in my being, making me a little bit more the person I'm supposed to be.
(WBG, thought you may enjoy that memory.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Save the Clocktower...

Because it took a significant amount of time to get anywhere important, other than Tyler, (that is, if you consider Tyler important,) when we went anywhere it was considered a long trip. Dallas was an hour. The great childhood Mecca of Six Flags, over an hour and a half. Even traveling to football games in other rural communities required a good chunk of your day.

Many times our excursions outside Chandler took us away until late at night. Because I've mostly been an early riser all my life, I would generally be asleep during these long trips. But strangely enough, for my entire childhood I would always wake up at the same place every single time. The intersection of Highways 31 and 315, when I was a young child, was simply a blinking red light, the kind where you wait your turn, but don't really need any more assistance than the compass of kind behavior. Later it turned into an all-out traffic signal, complete with red, green, and yellow. But as long as I can remember, at the northeast corner of the intersection a small bank has sat with a short tower perched atop the building, just diagonal from what used to be a downtown square. On top of the tower, visible to any child just waking up from a long journey, is a large clock, hands and all.

There are digital clocks spread all throughout the "new urbanism" developments springing up like crazy around the country, but those analog clocks rising above old city centers had a binding power that no amount of fancy landscaping and shiny numerical time-tellers can compete with. Of course, you can't bring these things up to many around you, especially those who worship at the altar of "progress," trading in time tested routines of work, play, and rest for a continual drive to get places faster than the next guy. If you're lucky, they'll say you are "resistant to change." Usually, though, the snickers and stares will be of a more condescending variety, with a mention of Andy Griffith thrown in or insinuated, as if that were an insult.

To those who came before me, that clock served as a reminder of where they were. Because everyone had equal visual access, it reminded them who they were with. It's location showed them where they were headed.

For people like me, as a road-weary child ready for the comforts and familiarity of that little brick house on Neches, it rang out silently that home wasn't far off. Remember the journey, celebrate the homecoming, and take a moment to look into the faces of your fellow travelers. Because time doesn't stop at the intersection of Highways 31 and 315.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Climbing Jacob's Yadder, Part 2...

Back in April, I climbed Jacob's Ladder in Cameron Park with Jude and Sutton. (It was described HERE.) Today we made our second excursion up the steep staircase made of hard concrete.

In my car on the way to get some Sno Cones, I asked the boys what they wanted to do afterward. They have somehow all of a sudden taken to conferring information to each other through whispering in each other's ear, hands cupped to prevent my eavesdropping. I've never been sure at what age this comes into vogue, but I guess five is about right. After careful deliberation, Sutton announced that they wanted to "go climb Jacob's Yadder." Only he didn't say "Jacob's Yadder." He said "Jacob's Ladder," and it was a little sad.

It's obvious that we all want the children in our lives to grow up and mature into articulate, intelligent, and caring people. But when they take those big leaps, such as pronouncing those difficult "L's," and making it up Jacob's Ladder long before you do, without the need for you to follow behind with your hands prepared to catch them, you kind of feel you have lost something.

In many ways this is true of all the seasons of our lives, with or without children. Times change, people move on, the realization that you can never go back kicks in and you begin to have the sneaky suspicion that something has been lost, never to be retrieved. History remains inside you, but doesn't allow you to remain in it's company. These transitions are difficult. But we find ourselves on the other side a little weathered, a little beat up, but ready to see what's next.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I've had the day off. Other than attending the Waco Community Race Relations Coalition dinner and quarterly meeting this evening, because I'm a social justice lovin', Community Race Relatin', fool who loves a good meal, I did much of nothing. I took two long walks with Jane, one long nap, and read a little in Dave King's The Ha-Ha. It was a well needed day off.

Perhaps you've noticed from the darkness and slight bitterness of some of my recent posts, I'm a little burned out on these days I've been inhabiting. I'm in serious need of a vacation before I really start telling people what I think. I'm hopefully taking a week off from work in late October. I'll probably be in the Dallas area most of that time, attending the wedding of a very close friend and seeing Blake, who will be coming in from Seattle.

Not much more to say. I've got a busy couple of days ahead, so it'll probably be Sunday or Monday before I have something else for you. Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

September 19...

Hello old friends
There's really nothing new to say
But the old, old story bears repeating
And the plain old truth grows dearer every day
When you find something worth believing
Well, that's a joy that nothin' could take away
--Rich Mullins, Hello Old Friends

Ten years ago September 19 fell on a Friday. Two days later, after church on a rainy Sunday afternoon, with a hint of coolness just over the horizon, I decided to take a nap in the tiny dorm room that was my home for the year I was a Resident Assistant. I've always needed some sort of music playing to help me get to sleep, so I placed in my casette-tape walkman Rich Mullins' album The World as Best as I Can Remember it: Volume 2. Somewhere along the way the tape must have ended, but I woke up confused. Evidently I had turned the switch on the radio function, and was listening to the Christian radio station, but they were playing Rich's Hello Old Friends. , which was straight off the album I was listening to. After the last line, "Knowin' morning follows evening/Makes each new day come as a gift," the DJ came on and said they were honoring the life and legacy of Rich Mullins, who had died the previous Friday.

The 90's, for me, were full of the beginnings of all-that-is-sickeningly-slick about American evangelical culture. Christian music became tolerable, thereby making the Gospel marketable, putting us all on the path to McChurch and the subsequent reactionary Emerging Church movement. Yet in the midst of all this, Rich Mullins was a true prophet. He called the American Church to remember the ancient ideals of the revolutionary simplicity of faith, hope, and love.

For many of us, Rich was the first person who ever told us that spiritual things are most often the everyday things. In an article that eerily echoed Kyle's last sermon, Rich wrote the following about those routine moments in which holiness resides:

It is for those every-once-in-a-while kind of moments - far more than for those once-upon-a-time ones - that we can be most thankful. It is in those moments that we find some sense of who we are. Regardless of how grand or how common the event of the moment is, in it we see ourselves at our absolute best - focused, poised and pure - no compromise, no ulterior motives, no self deception or pretense. We see what we are like when we have no point to prove or score, no bills to fit, no scrutinizing to endure... We meet again that child in us who stills loves to swim naked in the cold, quick-running waters of the now - the child in us who can feel in his skin and very bones the warmth and brilliance of the sun. In those moments there is that flash of astonishing recognition: this is not a child who is merely in us - this child is us.

I often wonder what camp Rich would have ended up in during the past several years of further fragmentation of evangelicals. My guess is that he would have fallen out of view to live out the rest of his days with the Native American tribe he had grown to love. There seemed to be a genuine reticence toward celebrity in his tone. Not just a fake "Aw, shucks, go on," but a genuine disdain for attention... something all of us, including me, could bear to have a little more of.

Above all us, when I think of Rich Mullins, I think of the words that have haunted me since I first heard them over ten years ago-- " took the hand of God almighty, to part the water and the sea/But it only took one little lie, to separate you and me/ Oh, we are not as strong as we think we are." What a gift to be able to package such a colossal message into such few words.

So today, in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Rich Mullins' death, may we celebrate those small moments, the ones that normally pass us by. May we run headlong into the dangerous grace of a God that is often too-big-for-comfort. And may we remember the saints we are to each other, walking in each other's midst.

(If you want to know more about Rich Mullins, my favorite website that has archived his songs and articles can be found HERE.)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Messy Ecclesiology...

The cover story of a recent Charisma Magazine featuring the worship band of a certain church here in Waco began by stating that the front man of this particular band is "taking Christian music to a whole new level. And he's doing it from a Baptist Church full of college students." The sentence didn't read "And he's doing it from, GET THIS!, a BAPTIST church...," but I've been around enough to know that a sense of surprise at (and a subtle disdain of) the particular denominational heritage of a church that is impacting the worship music of a generation was most definitely implied.

Unlike many of the people I know who grew up in a Baptist church, I get a little defensive when others say or imply things about Baptists out of ignorance. Most students at the small Texas Baptist university I attended took great pains to distance themselves from being identified as a Baptist. If anyone asked them about what kind of church they attended, they would say something like "Well, I'm a Christian who just happens to be Baptist." (Of course, this was before it became sexy to call yourself a Christ Follower instead of Christian.) I've always found this a little strange, because I think most people who would ask anyone about their church probably have learned sometime during their lives that Baptists are typically Christian.

But people can only speak to what they know, and what many people know of what it means to be Baptist is understandably limiting. Whether it be from experience or hearsay, most, if asked to give a description of a Baptist church, would give an array of answers on topics ranging from the abstention from alcohol, dancing, and humor to the singing of hymns written in the 40's and 50's out of hymnbooks from the 70's. The interesting thing is, pretty much everyone would be correct in at least part of what it means to be Baptist. We are much more diverse than you may think. And the great thing is that we are allowed to be.

When I was a junior or senior in high school there was a business meeting at the church I had been a part of since birth that stands out, in retrospect, as one of the greatest testaments to me of what it means to be Baptist. These meetings typically followed a standard procedure, kind of loosely along the lines of Robert's Rules of Order. We opened with prayer then heard reports on people who wanted their membership moved from our church to another. (Letters, anyone?) After a financial report there would then be recommendations from various committees of the church. Each of these segments would be followed by a discussion and then a vote. It could be as tedious as bathing a cat, as we voted from things as significant as purchasing land to the seemingly mundane and no-brainer-in-Texas decision of whether or not to fix a broken air conditioning unit.

I cannot remember what the subject at hand was in this particular meeting, but I remember two things-- 1.) It was quite contentious and 2.) Whatever it was about didn't seem like a big deal to me. It was strange seeing people who spent life together, took care of each other's children, even took turns bailing each other out of sticky financial situations, arguing like children over something that seemed so trivial.

And another interesting sight-- The pastor, who moderated these meetings, stood in front of the congregation watching his side of the discussion being marginalized, reduced to just another opinion in a room full of equals. He looked absolutely wounded. I actually thought I saw a little tear of anger flow down his reddened face. It was an extremely uncomfortable moment to be a part of. It retrospect, though, it is a beautiful memory.

After I graduated high school and left town, I also parted ways with the church whose memory I've grown to love, perhaps more than the actuality of being there. In the years that passed the tensions grew among various factions in the church. Shortly after I left, a large chunk of the church left to become a part of another Baptist church outside of town, a church that has thrived ever since the new influx of people. A few years later those who remained turned on each other, resulting in about half of the congregants leaving to form a new church, almost equidistant from the original and the destination of the first diaspora.

The pastor stuck around for a few years, eventually getting the church to "follow his vision" in constructing a much-too-large building with money that didn't exist. As is the story with many small-town congregations, after proving he could "lead," he left the church with massive debt and a building with way too many unfilled seats.

This story shows that Baptists can be petty, childish, and vindictive, like most real people. It speaks of our human tendency to take our toys and go home when things don't go our way, and is indicative of a people who have splintered too many times to count over the course of history. But it also also acknowledges a tradition that, while far from perfect, celebrates community in ways that are holy and messy and everything good about living out our faith in the midst of each other.

There are books and movements popular these days that extol the virtues of embracing messiness in our approach to church and spirituality. People are beginning to acknowledge that God's movement among us can be equally felt when all the edges don't come out clean and the loose ends are frayed as when things turn out evident and clear.

Perhaps nothing creates more messiness in church life than certain Baptist distinctives. Ideas such as Soul Competency and The Priesthood of all Believers, in flowery religious language, celebrate the ability of every person to approach God, and make religious decisions on their own without coercion from the "spiritual elite." In more streetwise vernacular, however, they are a big middle finger and a sonic-boom-loud "Eph You" to the presumption of any single person who believes their position with God and among other believers makes them better able to exercise decisions about church life than anyone else. These distinctives are why Baptist churches tend toward congregational decision-making.

I don't believe every church should be one-member/one-vote in all decision making. The way most non-rural congregations are, it's hard (and I believe unwise) to strictly define who is and who isn't a member. And, frankly, there are decisions such as whether or not to replace a broken air conditioner in Texas, in the middle of the summer, that would be foolish to wait until a business meeting to make.

But I do believe churches silence the voice of the congregation at their own peril. Sure, things run more smoothly, facades remain in place, and most people in the pews could care less. But when large decisions are made unilaterally by the strongest, or most prominent, personalities, a sense of loss is felt among those whose very lives and vitality are centered around the life of the church. Long dissertations on "community" become empty and meaningless when community is encouraged in every corner of our lives together, except where important decisions are concerned.

The irony is that when big decisions are handed to the congregation, if true life-giving community is going on, the congregation will typically look at it and discuss it reverently, give guidance, then hand it right back and say "Ok, we trust you, because we know you. We know you do not take your responsibility lightly. We know your devotion to God and to the church, and so we believe you'll make the right decision here." When this happens then value, God-given, extravagantly holy value, can be acknowledged in the lives of everyone from the biggest rock star to the lowliest person of simple faith.

Otherwise, no matter how many times we repeat the word community, we might as well just cross ourselves and face Rome.