Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bullets in my Drawers...

My bed and chest-of-drawers were given to me from my grandmother's guest room after she passed away a few years ago. When I first received them I noticed there were bullets in one of the drawers. This was odd because I can't remember either of my grandparents ever owning a gun, although my grandfather could be strange and secretive.

I cleared them out of the drawer to make room for my junk. Yet every time I take the drawers out to move, I notice a few more bullets seem to fall out of tiny corners. They are everywhere. Today I was cleaning out one of the drawers and noticed about a half-dozen of them.

It's almost mystical, like they drop out of some portal from another world.

I suppose they serve a purpose, though. Every time I see them I'm reminded of my grandfather, who was distant and left emotionally scarred from WWII, but who remained faithful to his routines, despite his demons-- A walk downtown for a cup of coffee, the crumbling of his cornbread into his buttermilk, and a stern refusal never to leave his hometown out of fear that his cat might die while he's away.

Today I thought about my grandfather and how he talked to everyone, yet never really connected with anyone. And I wondered if the payoff was worth it. He never (at least after the war) experienced the great riches of living in community with a small group of people he loved and cherished, but neither did he carry the weight of possible rejection and social isolation, the general messy-ness that comes with any relationship.

On most days I'd take my life over his in a second. But occasionally the heart weighs heavy and I would give anything to just crumble my cornbread into a cup of buttermilk and live my life oblivious to what I'm missing out on.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


this road
is longer than expected
shadows obscure
and laughter more fleeting
than before
the travelers walking beside
hide intentions
not deliberately, yet carelessly
others wait
down the path, arms open
yet now,
there is only this side of headlights

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

People, Stories...

Many of my dreams include a cast of characters, all known to me yet foreign to each other. Everyone is from a different chapter of my life and I usually wake up asking myself how in the world this one particular person I knew for a few months fourteen years ago can be a part of the same story with friends I currently share life with. It's generally a pleasant experience, one that might be nice to see how it works out in the real world. I know it's a little narcissistic, but I'd love to be a fly on the wall when some of my childhood friends walked up to someone I became close with later in life and asks "And where do you know Craig from?" Then the stories will flow and at the end the listener responds with a laughter filled "Yeah-- That sounds like Craig!!"

It's all about me, isn't it?

I've been thinking about how I remember Kyle and how my memory differs from others. Woltorstorff (who I've quoted endlessly over the past year and a half) said that after the death of someone close we say things like "This is how he was," or "This is what he would have wanted." As time goes on "how he was" and "what he would have wanted" begins to look an awful lot like how we are and what we want. We all have our favorite version of those we love, and will fiercely protect it in light of the memory of others.

I'm trying to be more intentional about letting others tell their stories when it comes to Kyle. At least once a week I'll meet someone new who finds out I go to UBC and will say "Oh, I knew Kyle. He was a friend of mine." For a while I got a little defensive when I'd hear this, because I'd never heard of this person, and would need to tell them that he was my closest friend, almost daring them to top that. But I've come to realize that as close as we were, I only knew him the last five years of his life. He had friends and stories he had yet to tell me about. I'm getting to the point now where I want to hear those stories. I NEED to hear those stories, so I'll have a continual reminder of who this amazing person I called "friend" was.

This has also caused me to want to tell friends from one corner of my life about those from other corners. Part of it is to prove how many friends I have, top that. But mostly I want you to know all the ingredients that make up my life. You can't know me unless you know "my people."

And I want you to know my people. So, periodically, over the next few weeks, I plan on introducing you to my friends and family through my blog. Sometimes (as in the case with family) this will be difficult, but regardless I'm going to push through.

(I'm actually borrowing this from something Blake did a few years ago.)

I hope you will do the same. Tell each other's stories. In the process I believe you'll discover yourself.

P.S.-- Carney has posted pictures of the Happy Hour I spoke of a few days ago on HIS BLOG.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Two funny Lake kid quotes from yesterday--

Jude and Sutton were horse playing in the back of my car. Jude started to tickle Sutton and said, seemingly as an insult, "You're ticklish!." Sutton replied, "No I'm NOT! I just get REAL happy when you tickle me, so I laugh."

Avery discovered that one of her friends from school lived down the road, so she walked to her house to play. Jen sent me over there to get her for dinner. Avery protested, said she wanted to eat at her friend's house. I talked it over with the mom, (along with having the whole "I'm not her dad" conversation,) who said it was ok. I went outside to tell Avery she had to come home right after dinner. I hugged her goodbye then started to walk back down the road. From behind me I heard Avery tell her friends-- "That's my friend Craig. He's VERY popular."

The high schooler lingering in me wanted to turn around and run to give her another big hug. But I just walked on into the overcast evening with the biggest smile on my face.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Baylor. Ridiculous , but totally predictable...

It's been almost six years since I finished my brief tenure as an employee of Baylor University. The disdain for the university I had when I left has slowly dwindled into nothing more than passive indifference with occasional flourishes of slightly positive feelings, brought on by the tangential connections I have due to my church. But my ire was renewed today when I learned what is probably old news to many of my readers, that Byron Weathersbee, the guy who has been the interim Baylor chaplain for a couple of years now and has been credited with establishing a spirit of health and vibrancy to the program, has been passed over for the position in favor of someone whose qualifications are more in line with the Great Manifesto-- Baylor 2012. In short, clinging tightly to a lofty ideology written solely to increase "prestige" has taken precedence, once again, over the time tested virtues of loyalty and commitment.

Educational institutions, and those whose rhythms are similar, can get away with this nonsense, because of the knowledge that in four years those who raise the most stink about it, namely students, will be somewhere else doing other things while a new crop of youngsters won't care what happened a student generation ago.

Baylor may be just a few years from 2012. What an interesting day it will be when they arrive at that glorious utopia, only to discover that somewhere along the way they lost their soul.

Ok, back to my passive indifference.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

My Weekend...

I've had something that comes all to rarely for someone who works in retail, which is a complete weekend off. Two days is a LONG time to go without working, and I've tried to make the most of it. Among the things I've done...

-- Finished reading Little Chapel on the River by Gwendolyn Bounds. It's the true story of a Wall Street Journal Reporter who was forced out of her apartment after the 9/11 attacks. She found temporary housing in Garrison, a small town about fifty miles north of New York, just across the Hudson River from West Point. Bounds discovers, almost by accident, an Irish Bar tacked onto an old general store and chronicles the struggles and joy of the family that owns the place and the lives that frequent it. It's one of the most moving portraits I've ever seen of what makes true community exist-- struggle, commitment, loyalty, memory, and an understanding that place matters. The title of the book comes from a guy who drives over sixty miles once a week to the bar, and considers it his church-- The Little Chapel on the River.

-- Helped Britt move into the house he purchased from Potter. This was a perfect combination of excitement and weirdness. It's a strange feeling being sad that one friend is gone, yet happy that another is moving in to their first house. Anyway, it also helped me realize how out of shape I am, as I woke up this morning quite sore.

-- Mowed TK's yard.

-- Went to a fajita/margarita party at the house of an old friend of mine who lives way out in the country, and had a great time. On the drive out there I realized how long it had been since I've been in a social situation without the comfort of my small circle of "people." I actually was nervous. It surprises people to find out that over the past few years I've developed a small amount of social anxiety, especially with a lot of unfamiliar faces. Everything went great, though.

-- Went to church this morning. It was the last week of Sunday School, and I must say the class I led with Paola and James was one of the most enjoyable I've ever had. We went through Phillip Yancey's book Soul Survivor, and had a good, steady group who actually enjoyed talking.

-- Spent a lot more time than normal with Jane.

-- Began reading another book, The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears. The title hooked me in.

And, well, that's about it. Hopefully I'll have some time to put into some more thoughtful posts this week, so keep your eyes peeled.

Have a great week.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

For Potter...

Thank you God, for this good life, and forgive us if we do not love it enough.
--Garrison Keillor

As is often the case with shared rituals, the genesis of our Friday drinking group is in question. Britt suggests the roots were planted when he and I began to occasionally hang out at the La Fiesta bar last summer. Josh remembers some phone call I made to him, which I have a hard time remembering, while Jonathan can only recall an instance of being with another group of people only to realize he had to meet us at five. Sometime last summer I met up with Josh and Lindsay over at Doc's Riverfront for drinks on a Friday, and that's my strongest recollection of how it all started.

Regardless of it's beginnings, the form it would eventually take ended last night, as Jonathan's time here in Jerusalem on the Brazos has closed. He is now part of the diaspora, sharing his artistic genius (I do not use that word lightly) with others in much more appreciative places than this. Four became three, and the sense of finality was palpable.

Since he is leaving today, we met up one last time at La Fiesta, about as regular of a place we have frequented. There was a long stretch at Doc's, several memorable stints at The Elite, and a smattering of other places. The only (unspoken) requirement for the establishments we chose to grace with our presence was that they not be a hotspot of student activity. Oh, and also that they had good Happy Hour specials.

The girls-- Britt's girlfriend Holly, and Josh's wife Lindsay-- joined us, along with Roy. Yes, they brought a baby to a bar, and later I'll fill you in on why I thought that was the best place for him to be.

In the middle of the usual crude jokes and light Christian gossip, there were split-second-silences where I felt we were all personally expressing gratitude for what this throw-together group of guys has meant to each other during a year where we all were facing monumental changes in our lives. Britt, a fellow East Texan who I knew sporadically through acquaintances since we both moved to Waco in 2000, has just purchased his first house (from Jonathan), and in the next few weeks may possibly instigate more life altering factors into the equation. Josh, facing graduation from seminary and an uncertain future, has just become a father. Last year Jonathan left a very good and steady job with a local accounting firm to pursue his passion of art, mainly through graphic design. I had a difficult year at work, and we had all just lost a pastor, and me a best friend, through a tragic accident.

Throughout all this we made an unconscious decision that we were not going to be tossed about. We threw our anchor down into a sea of Shiner and decided we may as well keep each other company. We all told stories, as well as interesting bits of "information." But the greatest thing we ever did was laugh. We laugh a lot-- at stories of other people, at our own demons, and the many absurdities of life.

At one point last night Holly and Lindsay were in conversation, somewhat separated from the rest of us. Something was said that caused uproarious laughter and my first instinct was to look over to make sure we weren't disturbing Roy, sound asleep in Holly's arms. And then a wondrous truth hit me deep down in the depths of my soul-- Here's a brand new life, right in our presence, with the sweet sounds of church reverberating in and out of his tiny ears.

As Roy gets older, if his parents follow God's will for their lives and remain in Waco for some time, he'll hear the words "Love God, Embrace Beauty, Live Life to the Fullest," so much so that he may get tired of it, the same way we grew tired of the old men in our childhood churches beginning their prayers with "Most gracious Heavenly Father." Assuming he inherits the insatiable curiosity for explanations from his dad, he's likely to ask his parents the question that often rolls off our deconstructed tongues, which is, "What does that even mean?"

For the most part, he'll already have a good idea. But should his parents need help, all they will have to do is grab the picture of Roy at four weeks, being held by his dad's friend Jonathan in the middle of the La Fiesta bar, amongst emptied beer mugs and the air thick with joy. Josh will say "See that guy holding you? That's Jonathan Potter." He'll tell him that Potter is a guy who is creative, whose laughter can fill a room as quick as his kindness can lighten it. He'll describe a life that embraces beauty and lives life to the fullest, and who loves God by doing these first two.

We raised our glasses, knowing the next time around there would be once less. I feel my toast to my departing friend was inadequate, so I'll end with an ancient Irish blessing to one of the best, a guy who makes me proud to have such close friends with such extensive police records, and someone whose charismatic presence and laughter will be sorely missed-- Jonathan Potter...

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


When I woke up this morning, the pain in my tooth had subsided. However, my gums were sore and my cheek was swollen. I looked like John McCain. The dentist said this was an abscess.

She did an X-Ray and determined, well, I'm not quite sure what she determined. She pointed to an area at the root of my hurt tooth and said "You see this area here, how it's a little darker than the surrounding tissue?" I said I saw it, but I didn't see it. Just kind of nodded my head. Something was then said about four options. She described them all, the last one being just to have the tooth removed. I told her to explain the first three in greater detail. I really didn't understand all of them, but in the midst of the lingo I figured out that she was telling me she couldn't help me, that I'll have to see what is known as an endodontist, and surgery will probably be involved.


I did have one myster solved, however. As I was leaving I became the curious student. "Oh, yeah, there's one thing I've been wanting to know for years..." I told her that I've been hearing people talk about these things called "wisdom teeth" all my life, and no description of their arrival has ever been pleasant. I've always wondered when mine would come in. So she sat me back in and looked in my mouth. She told me I had them, and that they were in the very back. "Oh, that's my wisdom teeth? Interesting. I've been waiting my whole life for them to come in, and there they've been all along." I've had those teeth since very early on. I can't even remember them coming in.

She told me my head was big enough to handle them, so there was no problem with their growth.

Sounds about right.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Jesus, Calling...

I can see in the strip malls and the phone calls
The flaming swords of Eden
In the fast cash and the news flash
And the horn blast of war
In the sin-fraught cities of the dying and the dead
Like steel-wrought graveyards where the wicked never rest
To the high and lonely mountain in the groaning wilderness
We ache for what is lost
As we wait for the holy God
Of Father Abraham
-- Andrew Peterson, The Far Country

A couple of weeks ago, on a Monday, I was told by Sutton that I would probably die that day. I asked him why he thought that and his answer was succinct-- "Because you're really old." I wanted to share it on my blog that evening but I refrained from it because of the universal fear that if we talk about our death then it may happen that day, which provides an interesting story of serendipity for our loved ones, but may not necessarily be a pleasant experience for us. So I waited a couple of weeks to make sure I didn't, in fact, die on or near that day. I didn't want to freak you out.

It'll eventually happen, but in the meantime I have things to occupy my time.

My tooth is still hurting, but I do have a dentist appointment in the morning. Because of the pain, I didn't play much with the boys today. After a little while at my house messing around with the dogs, we headed to Poage park. They ran immediately to the merry-go-round, I to the park bench. It was cloudy and slightly windy, a touch of pleasant coolness in the air. I just sat back and watched them live out big, giant worlds in the midst of the sand, sticks, rocks, and playground equipment.

I was quiet and tired.

On our way to the car I made the announcement that there was something I hadn't had all day from anyone. They both stopped in their tracks, looked at each other with questioning faces, evidently spoke to each other with their twin-telepathy, then barreled over in my direction for Monday hugs.

And more echoes. Aching and pain in the midst of a day in which my debilitating toothache paled in comparison to tragedies and injustices being committed from Virginia to Iraq, yet in these brief and fleeting moments of childlike affection, I believe I can hear the songs of The Other Place, calling all the weary ones...home.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Take the Pain Away...

Several weeks ago a couple came into the store with visible signs of severe melancholy. They were in their early fifties and exuded the qualities of "common folk." Wrinkled skin. Plain clothes. They possessed a kind, gentle demeanor that was quietly disarming despite the unpleasant odor of cigarette smoke leaking from their skin. They were looking for books on grief, as their 23 year old son had recently passed away after a sudden illness.

Knowing a thing or two about books on grief, I took them to the Self-Improvement/Psychology section. After prying and finding out they were people of faith, I then showed them some Christian books that I had found particularly helpful. Over the course of the conversation the gentleman slowly drifted away from us to wander aimlessly around the store. The wife took this opportunity to tell me that he was taking it extremely hard. His son was also his best friend. Since the death occurred just two weeks before, he had suffered two heart attacks. About the time she told me this, her husband walked up to tell her he'd be in the car waiting. As he walked off she looked at him with greater love than I think I've ever seen come out of two eyes. She looked back to me with a tear tricking out and sighed, saying "I just don't know if he's going to make it."

I comforted her as much as was prudent for a retail manager. She was quiet for a few moments then said, "Since I'm a Christian I probably shouldn't be asking about this, but what do you know about Sylvia Browne's books?"

These are the Great Dilemma moments in the business I'm in. Do I tell her what I believe to be true and risk her walking out of the store without ever purchasing a book, or do I fudge the truth to increase the likelihood that I'll have a job this time next year?

I took the middle road and told her I believed that many people have probably found Sylvia Browne to be very helpful. Personally, though, I suspect that her message is one that avoids the hard reality of grief and seeks instead to skip right to the good feelings of assurance and peace. I was honest and told her that I thought some of the other books I had shown her would be more difficult to get through and wouldn't immediately alleviate all the crap of grief, but in the long run they provided a much healthier way of facing her son's death head on. She thanked me, took one of the "better" books and headed to the front to check out.

It was past my time to go home, so I headed to the office to drop off my name tag and pick up my phone. My heart sunk on my way out as I looked down the aisle to see her in the New Age section holding several Sylvia Browne books.

I've experienced something this weekend I haven't had since I was a child-- A toothache. My gums are sore around the area where I have a porcelain crown, and I suspect that food worked it's way up there and the resulting pain is from an infection of some kind. It is debilitating to have such pain, as all the focus and energy in your body is concentrated to the one place that is hurt. I mentioned it to a friend this morning at church, who told me to get garlic supplements. She said garlic has something in it that helps eliminate infection. Normally I've very leery of herbal remedies, being a Republican and all. That stuff is for kooks, and my loyal friends and readers who live in Austin. But you can bet your molars where I made a beeline to after lunch-- Right to the Herbal Remedy section of H-E-B to purchase a bottle of garlic pills.

In seeking to be more understanding of the worldviews and beliefs of others, we remind ourselves that we are all in the same boat. At times pain grips us and we reach out for whatever can immediately soothe. This grieving couple was desperate and they chose Sylvia Browne to be their minister. I'm saddened for their choice, but I cannot fault them.

Jesus may be the answer, but maybe he allows us to be a little Socratic in figuring out excactly what that means.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Just to post something...

The transformation
from story to lore
is equal parts pain
and exhilaration.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A review of Thousand Splendid Suns...

Khaled Hosseini's gift is in wiping away the dirt crusted, distant image that television has given his native Afghanistan to reveal worlds of color and texture that decades of armed conflict have failed to suppress. In his new book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, he masterfully untangles the myriad political and military factions that have robbed the country of it's ancient grandeur. Yet this is just the backdrop to Hosseini's continuation of the theme begun in The Kite Runner, which is, that true friendship is eternal and deems everyone who experiences it consequential.

Mariam spent her childhood, of dishonorable beginnings, in a hillside shack overlooking the outskirts of Herat, not too far from the Iranian border, with her mother, who had been exiled from the community. Laila grew up in the grand city of Kabul to the east, the beloved child of educated, middle class parents. Yet the patriarchal underbelly of Islam served as the tool fate used to bring them together. Mariam, fifteen years Laila's senior, sheds her initial distrust of Laila to form a bond of necessity that melts into ties based on trust, love, and a shared tragic existence.

As in The Kite Runner, Hosseini follows his characters through over thirty years of their lives, effortlessly skipping over long periods of time while leaving the reader with the impression that we lived each untold day with Mariam and Laila. He reinforces the axiom that our present lives may be a product of all we have done, and all that has been done to us, but our true worth is found in the ways we choose to give ourselves up for someone else.

Hosseini had a lot to live up to after crafting The Kite Runner, a book whose characters and plot still linger with me some two years after I've read it. The "hook" in A Thousand Splendid Suns isn't quite a gripping as in his first book, and even fairly predictable. But his writing style has improved significantly, and he ends his novel with as deft a touch as in The Kite Runner, making me believe Mariam and Laila will live on in my imagination for many years to come.

A Thousand Splendid Suns will be released on May 22.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sad News...

Several of my very close friends have scattered all over the world the past few years. I keep up with many of them through Skype, a free online phone service that also doubles as an Instant Message program. I rarely log off of Skype and often come home to find I've missed several messages from people who thought I was online. Several days ago I noticed a note from my good friend Tim in Germany from a couple of weeks ago telling me his dad was dying. I've known for a little less than a year that Mr. Buechsel had cancer, but had no clue it was as far along as it was.

For several days I tried to contact Tim, to no avail. I also tried to get a hold of his sister, who is a graduate student at Baylor, but also had no luck. I began to put the pieces together and a couple of days ago finally was able to get a hold of Tim who confirmed that his dad had passed away three weeks ago.

Mr. Buechsel was a Christian, husband, father, and doctor. In the handful of times I was around him, I found him to be one of the kindest, most sincere people I've ever met. He was one of those people who ask questions of you out of genuine curiosity, without a hint of insincerity or pretension. As a European (and a German, at that) he had strong opinions about the world, but he had an unusual gentleness in the way he could carry on a conversation. He was a family doctor who, according to Tim, continued to make house calls long after it went out of vogue.

Please keep the Buechsel family in your prayers. Tim and Isabel are in Germany, but a couple of hours from Mrs. Buechsel. Please pray especially for Mark, who is an English professor at Palm Beach Atlantic College, and Ruth who, along with her husband Andrew, are graduate students here at Baylor, as they are so far away from their family during this difficult time.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Random Things...

-- I've learned something new today and I'd like to spread the information along to my fellow bloggers who want people to read their pages. There is one simple thing you can do to exponentially raise the amount of traffic your site receives from one day to the next and it is this: Mention Mark Driscoll somewhere in your post. Trust me on this.

-- While I'm quite upset with MSNBC for cancelling the Imus in the Morning simulcast, I also understand their reasoning. I know he has a history of making disparaging remarks, but the furor over his degrading innocent young people was raised to such high decibels that his handling of the situation could have been an important high-profile way to bring the issue of race to the forefront of our national discourse. Instead, the folks at my cable news network of choice chose to pander to the African American bigots, the "Reverends" Sharpton and Jackson. Seriously, why do these people still have a voice? Put people like Vivian Stringer or Essence Carson of Rutgers as the voices of the African American community and we might finally be able to make progress in removing our national stain of racial inequality, without the vitriol spewed by supposed civil rights leaders whose hypocrisy continually deems them irrelevant.

-- Read THIS ARTICLE. It is absolutely amazing. As I used to say in my younger years, this will preach.

-- I'm about halfway through the new Khaled Hosseini book. The story isn't quite as gripping as the Kite Runner (yet), but I believe it's much more well written.

Reluctantly Answering a Question...

I have been asked a couple of times recently to share my thoughts on Donald Miller. Taking into account that most of you who read my blog are my age (and, I believe, also Mr. Miller's) or younger, this is as difficult a task as offering thoughts on Billy Graham to a sixty five year old evangelical from Wheaton, Illinois. In both cases I would find it necessary to express my admiration for the abilities of Miller and Graham while pointing out how the contextual milieu in which their ministries exist outside the realm of what is helpful for me, and in the process try to preemptively answer the inevitable accusations that I think I'm better than them. A difficult task, indeed.

But first, I should say this-- Any (perceived) negative comments I say about Donald Miller should be taken with one thing in mind, which is, I'm a little jealous of him. From the things I've heard and read, he and I grew up in very similar circumstances as far as church was concerned. He grew up in Houston. While Houston isn't technically a part of East Texas, it still plays a large part in shaping evangelical youth culture, as many of those who grow up in it's megachurches go on to study ministry at ETBU and linger around to leave their imprint on the churches of the Piney Woods.

Young people growing up in church deal with the same insecurites and need for affirmation as any other kid. Some of us found our niche by embracing the orthodoxy of That Old Time Religion, even if it took on a newer look and claimed to be more "fresh" than the faith of our parents. Regardless of what we called it, we questioned nothing and became poster children for the establishmet, and the establishment loved us for it.

Others couldn't stand existing inside the parameters created for them by others, and struck out on their own to explore the world and it's many complexities. They held on to their faith, but they allowed their faith to shape them. These were the creative types who wrote and painted and lived in a world that was a bit unsafe for my tastes. At ETBU I wondered why these people seemed so angry, and why they just couldn't go along with what was expected of them.

In the early nineties I fell into the first group of people, Donald Miller would have probably identified with the second. And this is why I'm jealous. No one likes to discover a place only to realize someone else arrived there before them.

When Blue Like Jazz mania hit Waco a few years ago, I jumped on the wagon. I enjoyed the quirkiness of Miller's writing style and found his stories to be interesting and unusual. I recommended the book to a friend. He read it and told me he was a little dumbfounded that I liked it. He believed Miller had taken the writings of Ann Lamott and superimposed his personal stories onto her work. Him telling me this was a light-bulb moment for me, similar to the one experienced by Elaine Benes on Seinfeld, who fell in love with a guy because of the twinkle in his eye, only to be told by Jerry that she really was falling in love with a character the guy played in television commercials. Oh yeah, I realized, I didn't really like Blue Like Jazz, I liked Traveling Mercies and found Miller's book to be nothing more than a tamer version of Lamott's.

To his credit, Donald Miller has cited Traveling Mercies as an important influence on his books, even going as far as saying that he wanted to write something like it as he was writing Blue Like Jazz. I suppose my issue isn't so much with him, as with the hordes of young evangelicals who believe they are being edgy by reading his stuff.

I appreciate very much Miller's thoughts on how our faith is lived out in the context of story, and how systematic bullet points can never fully lead us into a greater faith in Jesus. I am, however, still narrow-minded enough to (perhaps unfairly) lean heavily on guilt-by-association, and find it hard to reconcile this apparent postmodern emphasis on narrative with his being linked to Mark Driscoll, a popular Seattle-area pastor who Christianity Today described as being "culturally hip, yet theologically conservative."

I've been trying my best not to disparage intelligent and thoughtful people who come to different conclusions about faith and life than I do. So if Miller leans more toward reformation theology and a complementarian view of women, (again, I am making assumptions based on his association with Driscoll,) I respect that. Some of the people I admire most in the world fit this mold. But it's just not what I believe, so it's hard for me to accept him being made into an "emergent icon" by young people (especially many female seminary students.)*

When people ask me about Donald Miller at work, there's an answer that comes to my mind that I find difficult to articulate without appearing arrogant and elitist. I suppose there's no way to avoid this, so I'll go ahead and say it-- I think he's a wonderful bridge for many people who are seeking to to move out of the confines of stuffy Christianity experienced within the slick, pre-fab walls of modern churches. He's leading a generation of young evangelicals into an exploration of the world, seeking to convey a message of grace to a world who is turned off by Christians. But if you've been outside the walls of American Evangelicalism for a while, you may find his stuff a little innocuous, and also nothing more than a youthful reactionary response to a white suburban upbringing.
* When I finished writing this phrase "emergent icon," I was reminded of the many different strains of the emerging church. A couple of years ago my friend Cory wrote a wonderful thing on his blog describing the distinctions among emergent leaders. I found it very helpful and informative. Cory, would you mind posting that again? I can't find it anywhere.

Another note: If you have never read anything by Donald Miller, I'd suggest this-- Read Ann Lamott's Traveling Mercies first. Then, read Miller's Through Painted Deserts. I found this to be his most enjoyable book. It's much more raw than his other things, but I also seem to hear his voice come through louder in it, without the shades of Lamott.

Monday, April 09, 2007


It was just announced that MSNBC is suspending the Imus in the Morning show for the next couple of weeks, and I'm pretty pissed. One of the only reasons I wake up as early as I do is to listen to my favorite cantankerous old man rant about the news and speak with some of the best political journalists around.

Sure, what he said was horrible and absolutely indefensible. Public figures are public figures who open themselves up to ridicule, while NCAA athletes are practically kids who just happen to be on television. But Imus is an equal opportunity offender and I don't recall the Sharptons and the Jacksons of the world getting upset when he called Rush Limbaugh a "fat pill popper."

I'm sure I'd be more offended if Imus wasn't such a big part of my daily routine.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter 2007...

From the North
The cold blew in
On the middle day
Remembering, Waiting
Still riddled with sin

Yet under these trees
All dusted with snow
Bodies frozen in place
Yet hearts all aglow

The warmth of The Risen
Fills cracks and the holes
Daylight is coming
This daylight we know

From the East
The Hope blew west
Leaving has left
Dying is dead

(the following poem I wrote for easter last year.)

Easter 2006...

they spent three years with Him
a thousand sunrises
but yesterday
the sun rose to find darkness
and the darkness stood it's ground

today should be the same
perhaps ten thousand, maybe more
without Him, will they return
to their boats, long forgotten
on that lonely shore?

some left early to do their chores
most lay silent to chart their course

in the distance-- a duet of tears and running feet
coming closer, coming closer

out of breath, out of mind
they share the news, they share the time

He sees from a distance their bewilderment
and He smiles that smile, and he waits for them

He cooks the fish, He breaks the bread
He can't stop laughing, he shakes his head

in His mind the only words, are a silly, incredulous
"So, how's this for closure?"

Thursday, April 05, 2007


You know how when you imagine winning the lottery, you have that little twinge of fear that you would drive down to the lottery office in Austin on a Saturday, after your bank has closed, and have to drive back to Waco with a valuable check in your glove compartment and keep it in your possesion until the bank opened at 9:00 on Monday? Every second all you are thinking is about how the world knows you are an almost millionaire, all you have to do is deposit that check which could be easily stolen from your car that doesn't have an alarm system? (Yes, I have a very overactive financial imagination.)

I've had that feeling for the past few hours. Today at work we received the Advanced Readers copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, the second book by the author of The Kite Runner. It's in my room right now and all I can think of are the hordes of literary barbarians here on Sanger Avenue that would become ravenous with envy if they discovered what was in my possesion. They might do anything to get to it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


"...the pious pail draws the water/ from a well that's long gone dry"
-- Autumn Rains

I opted out of Lent this year. As a Protestant, it is my prerogative, so I enacted it. I didn't even go to our Ash Wednesday service. For one, I'm taking a break from my church's Wednesday services. Since Ash Wednesday invariably falls on a Wednesday, I was out of luck.

I've also been a little upset since UBC began celebrating Ash Wednesday a few years ago that we don't have our service in the morning. I mean, seriously, what good is it to get your head all dirtied up if people don't get to see it? It goes on then we go home and shower within a couple of hours. If I'm going to embrace the mysteries and sacred motions of the church calendar, then by golly I want people to see the ashes on my head and think me a little enigmatic. Here in the Jesus-Land that is the Bible Belt, we're all keeping score. So if you can't be a witness to my devotion, then screw it, I'm going to the bar.

In my church growing up we put our offering in envelopes. On top of the envelopes were spaces for our name, the date, and how much we were giving. On the bottom was a checklist to keep up with our Christian accomplishments for the week, such as whether or not we went to Sunday School, made any visits or contacts (meaning- did we invite anyone to church,) and, my favorite (because it was do-able, and also you could lie)-- if you read your Bible daily. These tallies were added up and, I always assumed, written down in a ledger and kept safe in a vault somewhere. I imagined our church secretary keeping charts of our progress.

While perusing the shelves of a Christian bookstore recently, I noticed a version of these envelopes that I had never before seen. Not only was a checklist printed on the bottom, but each individual item had a percentage value assigned to it, to be added up for a total grade. The values are as follows: Attendance (Sunday School)- 20%, On Time- 10%, Bible Brought- 10%, Offering- 10%, Prepared Lesson- 30%, Preaching Attendance- 20%.

If only following Christ were this easy. If it were, I would have aced it lately, regardless of the numerous ways my life falls short.

I think it should be our goal to discard anything that seems trivial in the face of the events of Holy Week. I think Lent would make the cut, because it gets us ready and reminds us who we are. Spending time with those we love should also make it, because Jesus did that (and it's also do-able for most of us.) But checklists should go because, honestly, isn't it a little silly to be adding up points in contrast to the Crucified Christ? I mean, the only thing our Savior would have received points for that week would have been possibly for preparing the lesson. That's only 30%-- quite a failure by our idiotic standards.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Climbing Jacob's Yadder...

Somewhere between Beersheba and Haran, Jacob needed to rest. Using a rock for a pillow had to have caused a restless night, so his dream that continued the cataclysmic shift in human history that had begun with Abraham was not out of the ordinary. He saw a ladder with angels traveling up and down, never bothering to tell us if they got in each other's way or feared for their safety. It was at this place, and just after deceiving his father into giving him what really belonged to his brother, that God appeared and extended the same promise to Jacob that was given to his grandfather-- Land, descendants, a nation.

Somewhere between Dallas and Austin sits an area of land that some refer to as the soul of Waco-- Cameron park. Near the entrance to the River Trail, on the other side of the road, is a wall of earth rising around a hundred feet into the heavens, or, at the very least up to Anniversary Park and Miss Nellies Pretty Place. Getting to the top requires either climbing up the incline, grabbing on to roots and dirt and rock, giving your calves a hell of a workout, or walking up a steep zig-zag staircase of old jagged concrete, while holding on to a railing of cedar logs. This impressively rugged structure is known as "Jacob's Ladder."

Yesterday I, along with Jude and Sutton, two four(and 1/2) year old boys who can be equal parts angel and devil, ascended and descended Jacob's Ladder.

After Sutton had to go to the emergency room a few months ago(described HERE), I have been a little too protective of the twins on our Mondays together. I hover a bit to close when they are on hard surfaces and rarely let them pick up sticks or rocks. I fully understand, as my friend Roxanne told me many years ago while I was holding her newborn, that it's hard to physically break a kid, but that's little consolation when you are responsible for children not your own, and one of them has already had to go to the hospital to be stitched up, and the injury was on your watch.

I'm reading a book about Mike May, a man who was blind since before the age of three who, in his forties, was the recipient of a groundbreaking stem-cell procedure that restored his sight. May was always exceptionally "functional" as a blind man, usually fooling people into believing he was sighted. Out of the description of Mike May's childhood emerges a charismatic figure who attributes his full life to never being afraid to get lost or hurt. He always believed the joy of feeling the wind on his face and finding creative ways to get home far outweighed the pain of black eyes and broken limbs his condition forced him to endure. The book is called Crashing Through: A story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man who Dared to See.

This story was fresh on my mind yesterday when I decided I'd take the boys to Cameron park to explore the relatively tame River Trail. Early in the day I made a commitment to myself to let them run far ahead of me and pick up whatever they found along the way, as long as it wasn't something that could bite them. After parking at Redwood Shelter we crossed the street to get on the pathway well before it winded along the river into the woods. After Sutton got over his fear of stepping in ants, we picked up a fairly brisk pace. I pointed out the way the river was high and rushing fast because of the storms we have been having. As is typical, Jude ran far ahead of Sutton and me. He picked up sticks and rocks along the way, while Sutton scanned the horizon, noticing ant beds from far away while mentally and verbally planning his method of escape from any possible attacks.

We all slowed down to look at a large tree that had fallen into the river. As they were asking questions about it (Jude wondering if he could climb on it, Sutton wondering how many ants live on it,) my attention was drawn to Jacob's Ladder on our left. I told myself that one day soon we'd come to the park and I'd let them climb it. I had 'one day soon' in my mind, but mistakenly left that clause out of my question-- "Hey boys, look over there. That's Jacob's ladder. Would y'all like to walk up it?" Not being able to read my mind and figuring out that I meant at a later date, in unison they yelled "Yeah!, let's climb Jacob's Yadder!"

Knowing I was now locked in to the endeavor, we crossed the street and began our ascent. Going up was no big deal, although some of the steps were almost as tall as they were. I walked behind them with my hands up, anticipating a slip at any time. My big fear, though, was going down it, picturing in my mind one of the boys slipping and bouncing down the concrete steps like a human shaped basketball, taking the other one with him. I was already rehearsing the phone conversation: "Hey Jen, we had a good time today. Oh, yeah, the bad news is that we are in the emergency room. The good news is that the doctor is giving both of them a sixty percent chance of walking again."

Almost to the end, I made the announcement that there will be a surprise for them at the top of the stairs. (I'm a master at making them think I have magical powers.) When they reached the last step I pointed to our far left Anniversary park, complete with more things for them to climb, yet this time with protective mulch to block their fall. They ran to the playground as I walked slowly, much more winded from the climb than they were.

When I reached the bench that holds adult caretakers while children go about their business, the boys had already made friends with some other kids. At one point they disappeared behind a mini rock climbing wall, sticks in hand. About a split second later I heard Sutton scream and begin to cry. I jumped out of my seat, certain that before I reached him I would see his bloody eyeball roll out from around the corner. He had been poked, but not enough to draw blood. Regardless, I made them both put the sticks down.

After a while I got them to finish playing by reminding them that we still had to go get snow cones. Before we reached the top of the staircase I stopped them to coach them on what was about to happen. I told them that walking down was a lot harder than walking up, and that I was going to be in front of them, and that they absolutely could not pass me down the stairs. Listening to my tone, you would have thought I was prepping them for an Olympic event.

We all made it just fine, me walking backwards a step ahead of them with my hands up, ready at a moments notice to be the hero. Occasionally Jude would get overzealous and attempt to pass me up, at which point I would yell for him to stop right now or he wouldn't get a snow cone.

On the way back to the car, on the field between the Rock and Redwood shelters, there was a steady breeze blowing against us. The river to our left, rushing frantically and carrying sticks and logs swiftly by us, and the cliff to our right, Jude broke out in a sprint. After a while he slowed down so we could catch up. I asked him if he liked feeling the wind on his face when he ran. He looked up at me and didn't answer, but instead began running again, as if I were making a suggestion, not asking a question. I looked back at Sutton and asked him the same question, expecting him to break out running in an effort to locate the answer. He just exhaled and said "Yeah. But I can feel the wind on my face just walking, too."

Jacob's descendants eventually got their land and nation, but lost something along the way--a sense of wonder, the idea that you could experience God in a place regardless of whether or not you owned and ruled the ground you stand on. Jacob saw a ladder that connected heaven to earth-- perhaps a message from God that the line between the two is smaller than we think, and the effort to move between them requires little more than placing one front in front of the other, step by step, feeling the wind on our faces.

On the way home I asked the boys if they had fun. Sutton said, "Yeah! I'm going to tell mommy we walked all the way up Jacob's Yadder, and that we almost went up to the sky!" Jude replied with the certainty and force of a country preacher, correcting his brother's approximations-- "No, we DID go up to the sky!"

Jude is correct. We did.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Lost under Open Skies...

Many of our conversations over the past few years have centered around trying to avoid using terminology that magnify the perception that there are those who are "in" and those who are "out." Out of this has come our refusal to call those who are not Christians "lost." Because, honestly, who is going to want to engage in meaningful dialogue with you if they know you believe them to be in the dark?

Today, however, I discovered a reason to justify using the term. I became lost. It wasn't a strange place that triggered my condition. I was in the middle of Waco, the city that has become my home and that I am very familiar with. We had our worship service this morning downtown at Indian Springs park, right on the Brazos River. When I walked up to the amphitheater, already teeming with hundreds of people, I knew exactly where I was, but I felt totally, helplessly, lost.

For the past couple of years I have suffered from a social ailment that requires me to seek out familiar and safe faces in a crowd before I can feel at ease. If I don't spot these people immediately, my body tightens up and I begin to believe that my years of having friends are over. I think many of us who were nerds at a young age and then developed our social acumen over time as a survival mechanism have this fear. It's a fear that tells us constantly, "You are destined to be alone when everyone else has friends." When this fear sneaks up on us, large crowds serve not to give us hope that there is a way out, but rather to magnify our loneliness.

I wonder if there were those like me standing in the street on the Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem to the deafening sound of the gathering crowds. Were there those who were swept up in the adrenaline brought on by rumors of deliverance, but at the same time had this gnawing feeling in their gut that they were all alone in the crowd? Did the social butterflies fear what would become of them when Jesus began tending to the duties of this Kingdom they believed he was about to establish? What about the teachers, those who had devoted their entire lives to guiding the Jewish people in the direction of God. Did they feel lost?

The service was beautiful. We sang songs, said a prayer for Palm Sunday, had baptism and communion. The sun reflected warmth and brightness from the dirty old river, except where it was broken up by the occasional speedboat. The shades of green bursting forth in Central Texas today are as numerous as the amount of lost souls gathering together at the park to celebrate the entrance of Jesus into our crazy city. The scales of my fear slowly began to fall to the ground as I became surrounded by more recognizable faces and as the words from the Crowder band echoed throughout downtown, reminding us all that we are not alone...

Wherever you are, wherever you've been, He's been there.

I then felt found again.