Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Angel of Presence...

Things have been relatively quiet in my world lately. I've spent the past couple of weeks in other people's homes, trying to give the Newlyweds a little space. Last week I stayed with Josh while Lindsay and the baby were away. After a Thursday night of drinking with my friends, since I had to work on Friday, I woke up yesterday morning and gathered my stuff to head back to the house for the weekend, and perhaps a few more days until the next place opens up.

After a quick nap in my bed for the first time in a couple of weeks, I headed to work for my closing shift. The book business is strong and steady here in Waco, with all the rain causing people to scurry to find indoor activities to pass the summer away. But the days have gone by smoothly without many complications.

For my dinner break I grabbed a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love and headed to Uncle Dan's BBQ on Lake Air, which turned out to be about the most spiritual event in my life in quite a while. As I strolled leisurely through the long hallway from the back door to the dining room of the restaurant, passing the black and white photos of Baylor sport's stars of the past, and an American flag flown over the U.S. embassy in Switzerland, I heard the sweet sounds of an old upright piano. It's halting echoes belting out what seemed to be a fusion of hymns and Broadway show tunes brought me back to my formative years in a tiny church on the corner of 3rd and Hwy. 31 in a town east of here.

As I walked around the corner to discover a little old lady, much like the ones from that old church, swaying at the bench with her eyes tightly affixed to the sheet music in front of her. I smiled my genuinely appreciative, yet slightly-less-than-enthusiastic smile at her as I walked by. She glanced over and her quiet smile let me know that we were on the same page...Church was in session and she was the minister in charge of a peace that only comes once in a while.

I went through the line and got my food, a large baked potato smothered with everything so-wrong-it's-right, (butter, sour cream, cheese, and a mound of chopped beef,) and a large cup of sweet tea. I took my pew at a table close to the piano and cracked open the book that had been recommended by several people for a while now. I realized very quickly that the writer was an Ann Lamott type of spiritual guide, making me feel good with liberal fuzzies and universal language that is incongruent of my ordinary semi-evangelical, post-everything theology, but I was going to enjoy the hell out of it.

After eating I put the book down quickly and leaned my head back, arms behind my neck, and took in a surprisingly emotional rendition of Dream a Little Dream. I thought about how being alone isn't all that bad when you have a cast of characters in your life whose entrances may take you by surprise, may be scripted, but is almost always assured. Of course, there are no slam-dunk assurances of anything in life, but we hope, and occasionally our hope stirs up a quietly intense passion for those we love. And as Rich suggested, "if the passion can lead to prayer, maybe prayer can give us faith...and if faith is all we got then maybe faith is all we need."

I was swept away in the music and was clueless how many songs had passed until I came out of my daydreaming. But when I came to, the Lord had led us to How Great Thou Art. It was then that I realized this was one of those moments where the next world was very close to this one. If you don't believe me, get this... I decided to get dessert, but I was tossed by the greatest decision known to man-- A slice of Pecan Pie or a bowl of Peach Cobbler. I asked the older lady behind the serving line, the one wearing the hair net and whose shift probably began back in the 1940's, to help me out. She told me I didn't have to choose, because they had a new dessert, and what came out of her mouth after this was perfectly in sync with the crescendo of that great hymn being played behind us-- Pecan Cobbler.

The veil opened and I came to the realization again that a little loneliness never hurt anyone. All you need is a couple of little old ladies, one flying you away with the power of an upright piano, the other holding you close to the ground with BBQ and an invention as grand as Pecan Cobbler, to carry you on to the next scene, where those you love, and who love you, will return to the plot line of this great story we call life.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Today I saw an SUV with a bumper sticker on the back that read, in big bubbly letters, CSAVED. The fact that it was located next to the one with Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes, not the Tulip guy,) clued me in that CSAVED stood for SAVED, just with a "C" in the front. When I pulled closer I recognized that CSAVED was also an acronym, and within each bubbly letter was the name of a person, presumably a member of the family occupying the SUV. C=Christine, S= Samantha, A=Anthony, etc. (not the exact names.) My first thought was "Dear God, please don't let it be that the parents of this family named each of their kids in such a way that when they all became Christians they could put a CSAVED bumper on the back of their vehicle." My second thought was when am I going to stopped being surprised and angered at this level of silliness that has pervaded evangelical culture. I mean, I live in Waco. I should just come to grips with the fact that this is par for the course.

There are those things, however, that straddle the line between extreme silliness and being extremely meaningful and relevant. Usually the person putting these things out determines which I believe it to be. This tag is one such thing. Carney was tagged with the question to "list five things you dig about Jesus," from someone he respects highly. (He called her his "theological superior.") He responded and his answers were really cogent and inspiring. So, while I would never really use the term "dig" with anything, I will, however, since Carney is my theological superior, share five things about Jesus that really does it for me...

1. Jesus began the whole thing where we value children. Before him, the Children's Miracle Network didn't exist. I think we assume that children have been loved and adored since the beginning of time. Before Jesus people spoke of children in terms of themselves. I.E., the only value these little ones had was in proportion to the amount of fame and fortune they could bring to their parents. Jesus stood that notion on it's head and said no, children are valuable IN THEIR VERY INABILITY to offer us anything that the world deems as worthy.

2. I like that Jesus got angry with those in power, but was kind to those outside of power. But sometimes I have to remember that, in the global scale of things, I have great power. So it's during these times that...

3. I appreciate the mercy and grace Jesus extends even to people like me-- White American males, the epitome of (perceived) power.

4. Jesus seemed to like talking and being silent in equal proportion, and this is like me. I love hearing the sound of my voice, and I think Jesus liked his voice. I also love being quiet, and I often see in the Scriptures where Jesus got away just to be quiet.

5. Jesus ended a chapter of the old story, the one where sin, death, and oppression were destined to win, and began the chapter of a new story, where there is always hope of resurrection in the here-and-now, and an ultimate resurrection in the "great by-and-by." Not only does this provide a great hope to my life, but it is the template for all the great stories I'll ever read or tell.

p.s., I think I'm supposed to tag five people... so... Jason, Blake, Ruth (Arkansas one,) Hannah, and Ric C.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Missing Mayberry...

Every generation fancies itself special, and mine is no different. Which, when you think about it, is quite unspecial in the universality of it all. For those of us in Chandler who were children in the late 70's and 80's, I've often held that we were special because of our proximity to the "good 'ol days." Maybe it was all the Gunsmoke and Happy Days I watched, but I feel as if I caught the tail end of a time long forgotten.

Before the large regional grocery chain, the one with the motion sensored door opener, took over in the early 90's, we had the small regional grocery chain, the one where you had to step on the rubber mat in order to swing the door open. But just down the road, in the downtown building like the ones that exist in many small towns, the ones that were two storied before the tornado or fire passed through, we had Tucker's General Store. Hardwood floors on the inside, busted wood front porch on the outside, wherever you walked it creaked, and not a health inspector in sight to make judgements about the amount of dust allowed to accumulate on the shelves.

Tucker's was owned by Mrs. Tucker, the widow of the late Mr. Tucker (I never knew their first names,) probably the richest person in town. Although, having grown up dirt poor, from what I understand, she never wanted to draw attention to her wealth. My dad actually told me once that we were distant cousins with Mrs. Tucker. My first reaction was why we weren't asking her for money. But we weren't those type of distant relatives, so dad wouldn't agree to my prodding.

Mrs. Tucker came to the store every day to work, which, for her, consisted of sitting on her rocking chair on the front porch of that downtown building and greeting people as they came in. If you strained your head hard enough, from where she was sitting, you could also see down the road and around the corner to those going into the small regional grocery chain, the one where you had to step on the rubber mat to swing the door open. I imagine this would have been helpful for Mrs. Tucker when keeping her ledger of those for whom she should be holding a grudge.

She died in the early 80's and the store closed very shortly after. I seem to remember my parents saying that her children spent so much time and energy fighting each other over her inheritance, that the business was doomed to fail. After the General Store, what remained of that old downtown building was sectioned off and housed various start-up businesses through the 80's and early 90's. There was a couple of BBQ places, an Tae Kwon Do studio (ala Napoleon Dynamite,) and about a half-dozen Pentecostal, NonDenominational, and Bible churches.

Eventually, however, the rural residents of Chandler became the suburbanites of Tyler, and the draw of the City of Roses proved too alluring for the simple, dusty ways of those Main Street buildings right next to the railroad tracks, where Ernest Tubb and his Texas Troubadors played to a crowd full of neighbors and friends in the late 70's. The large regional chain grocery store with the motion sensored door opener moved in, on the east side of town in the direction of Tyler, appropriately. The small regional chain grocery store with the rubber mat to swing open the door couldn't compete, so it shut down as well. Before you knew it, the memory of Tucker's was a bit too distant, and the building was demolished.

If anything good can be said about the tearing down of that building, it's that nothing has been put up in it's place. Of course rumor tells me it's not a deliberate communal decision to reclaim green space, but rather a bunch of rich people fighting about whether or not to put a gas station or a strip mall up. But for now it's bare of any human residue, allowing the ghosts of a time in-between, but long-gone, to remain at arms length, if only for a little while longer.


"You are the salt of the earth..."
-- Matthew 5:13

I've watched enough Paula, Rachel, Mario, and Emeril to know that the purpose of salt isn't what we learned in youth camp. You're not supposed to taste salt, you're supposed to taste whatever flavor the salt is meant to enhance. Salt, in right proportion, makes garlic taste more garlic-y, meat more meat-y.

When Jesus called his disciples the salt of the earth, he wasn't telling them to overpower the world. He was letting them know that their presence in the world would make ordinary flavors and colors and Ordinary moments are still ordinary moments in the presence of the followers of The Way, but our understanding of "ordinary" becomes charged with emotion and movement and...meaning.

I've been thinking about the salt of the earth lately, because my life is brimming with friends who live up to the moniker. Today at work I was doing something and looked up to see one of the tallest grains of salt I know, Brandon Durham. Brandon, a friend from ETBU, was in town helping his sister and brother-in-law (who I didn't know lived in town,) move. Brandon is the salt of the earth. He brings out the best in a moment, and the best in a person. I'm glad I know him, and I'm glad he's here, if even for an ordinary few moments.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

an attempt at fiction...

In a church this morning, somewhere, there was a 21 year old girl sitting all alone after a night of hard drinking and poor relational decision making. She woke up with the smell of guilt lingering all around her. In her bed, nursing a headache that served as a reminder, she contemplated her day. Everyone else was meeting up at the lake, but she had an inclination to drive down to the church on the edge of town that she had grown up in. Rumors had been circulating that the old dusty hymn books had been tossed a few months ago and, in their place, was music sung not by a choir of thirty, but a smaller, more talented "praise band." She had also heard that, since she stopped going to church two years before, the pastor who had been there since she was a child, and who she had prayed the sinners prayer with and been baptized by, was run off by some young families who had recently moved to town. She had liked him as a person, but felt alienated by his constant talk of sin and the blood of Jesus. She hated to see him and his family out of an income, but she assumed his ousters had good intentions and that the congregation would be a more comfortable place for her.

But still, she struggled. She knew who she was and she knew what she had done. She didn't feel deserving to be in a place with so many people who had spent their Saturday night pursuing more virtuous endeavors. But if she remembered anything positive from that old pastor of hers, it was his saying that God loves us just the way we are. That was something she could cling to, so she made the decision to believe that God was still available to her in that old, crumbling church building.

When she walked through the doors she was a little surprised that the service had already started. Growing up the opening hymn began promptly at 11:00 a.m., but the bulletin she had been handed by the young family standing together as ushers inthe foyer stated that worship now began at 10:45. She was also taken aback when she noticed the wooden pews with bright red upholstery had been replaced by individual seats covered by a purple, carpet-like fabric.

The congregation, about 300 strong in an auditorium that seats 400, were on their feet and the first praise chorus was just reaching it's final crescendo. She found an empty row toward the back. As she moved to the front of her seat, a young man in his mid-20's, wearing a sportscoat over a neatly pressed button-up shirt, untucked from his blue jeans, sans necktie, moved to the clear glass podium in front of the four singers, and gestured for people to have a seat, but encouraged the guitar player to keep strumming.

"Praise Jesus!" he exclaimed, with an echo from the crowd following immediately after.

"The Lord has been good to us, hasn't he? The spirit is moving through this place! The old, dead bones of dry religion are gone, and God is blessing us for it."

She marveled at how this place had moved beyond an order of service, but was a little weirded out by this young guy's overstated enthusiasm. But she was desperate, she knew she needed to somehow feel God, and perhaps this was now the place for that to happen.

"Because the Lord is blessing us, we have many new families hear today, praise God. We are happy you are hear, but I want to tell you something." His cadence slowed and his breathing became more deep. "Some of you are hear because you need a fresh word from God. And believe me, you will get that today. But some of you came because you think being in a new place with cool instruments and a different dress code is the easiest way for you to assuage your guilt for living a sinful life. Well, let me tell you something, if that's you, you need to check your motives," he pointed his finger in her general direction. "We aint here to be some place where you can come and go when you feel bad about what you did on Saturday night, we are hear for you to be CHANGED!"

He finished a few seconds later, as the praise band began their "slow set," but it might as well have been silent, for the girl didn't hear any of it. She sat in shame, in guilt. It was all she could do to get out of bed, just to perhaps somehow find God, yet her effort was demeaned and belittled.

And the words of grace cry out, begging to be spoken.
Yet even those who claim it most, believe it least.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The title of this post, which is too long for the Title field Blogger provides for me, is:


A guy came into the store early yesterday morning to do some work on our phone lines. He did his thing while I minded my business doing mine. Somewhere around mid-morning I found myself in the back receiving area doing some things, when he came back to tell me he was finished. As he walked out the back door he asked Luca, our receiving manager, if he was going to see REO Speegwagon. Luca chuckled and said he hadn't planned on it. I asked about the conversation, Luca told me what the guy had asked, then I walked right into a story that had to be told.

To support their 1988 Greatest Hits album, REO Speedwagon toured the country, which brought them to the heart of East Texas culture, Tyler's Oil Palace. Being pretty much the coolest 13 year old around, I went with my mom, who I forced to sit up in the bleachers while I hung down in the crowd of my thousand or so closest white-trash friends. At the end I bought my REO t-shirt, along with the Greatest Hits album (cassette tape.) My part in ensuring the Speedwagon kept pushin' for a few more years was done.

So I finished the story with my rendition of some of REO's best songs, which lingered on my tongue for the rest of the day. The thought of actually attending the concert never crossed my mind. Friday is the night I do Happy Hour with my friends, and my assumption has always been that concerts by overage rock stars are probably too expensive, with high insurance premiums due to broken hips and such.

Britt, Josh, and I met up at the Elite. After saying hello to another table of UBC'ers, we found our places at the bar and began the requisite "how was your week" talk. We're kind of like an evangelical accountability group in reverse. Extra points are given for being a badass, of which we are all aspiring to be, although we fall short on most days.

Somewhere along the way I mentioned the REO Speedwagon part of my day. A waitress immediately popped out of nowhere and asked if we were going to the concert. After hearing we weren't, she said she could get us tickets if we wanted. Her manager had two tickets but he wasn't able to go because he had to work. After a few more drinks, some price negotiation, and an on-the-spot loan from Jen A., a UBC'er and waitress at the Elite, we decided that Britt and I would take it on the run and head out to Zack and Jim's Hog Creek Ice House for a night of rock and roll.

The venue is several miles outside of town on Hwy. 6. There's a clear distinction between Waco-Urban and Central Texas-Rural as soon as you pass the lake. Once we saw it coming around the bend, Britt and I understood immediately that the night was going to be a good one.

Surrounded by a dirt parking lot, the Ice House is nothing more than a huge hollowed-out barn that opens up in the back to a pasture covered with manure smelling compost. About seventy yards from the building is the actual stage area. As we walked into the gates, we began to see that this is would be a pretension-free zone. Overwhelmingly white, yet as diverse as possible in every other way imaginable, everyone seemed to be genuinely happy, as if the entire crowd consisted of all their long lost cousins (which may not be too far from the actual truth of it all.)

After waiting in line at the bar to purchase our beer for the evening, we found our place at the place where the back of the building opens up into the back of the field. Everyone else closer to the stage, the ones who had probably been there before, had brought their lawn chairs. We stood through a couple of opening bands, trying our best to pace ourselves with the cans of Bud and Coors Lite we had just purchased.

Somewhere along the way we both got the urge for a cigarette, which was weird, since I haven't smoked anything in years. But the peer pressure was strong, so after a couple of beers I walked up to a lady who had been smoking and asked if I could purchase a couple from her for a buck. She said she was a real estate agent, gave me her card, and told me she'd give me two cigarettes if I would contact her if I ever needed to buy or sell a house. We had a short conversation about how I am actually looking to purchase a house and how I frequently visit her company's website looking for a good deal. After that was out of the way, I returned to Britt with the cancer-sticks I landed.

I can see where people get hooked on smoking. It was quite a release, and also, perhaps, a metaphor for for the evening. I take in things daily that will slowly kill me, from conflict to self absorbed sin, and, occasionally, at appropriate intervals, have the opportunity to stand back and exhale, getting rid of the toxins. What remains will eventually take me, but for now, I release what I can and enjoy the comfort of it leaving me.

Fully standing on the line between buzzed and drunk, I sung my lungs out when REO took the stage. During the in-between times I thought about how I always try to value the monotony of daily life, but sometimes it is at the expense of trusting God to do extravagant things in my life. I can never seem to find that balance. But eventually those thoughts were brought back to the sweet sounds of a blue collar army singing the songs of a washed up rock band from the midwest, who released their greatest hits almost twenty years ago.

The highlight of the evening wasn't when the crowd got mooned from a drunk guy in his fifties dancing on a picnic table, but when Britt and I noticed Zack from the Zack and Jim show roaming the crowd. Sometimes I try to listen to their show, but their lack of humor (after an excess of effort) just doesn't appeal to me. They tell stupid jokes and follow it with an obvious recorded laugh track. It's certifiably bad. Britt and I conspired to get a free beer out of him. When he came toward us, I lied and let him know how much I loved his show. He had clearly been drinking since probably before his morning show ended. He asked if we were having a good time and asking why we weren't drinking. We said we would need him to buy us a beer if we were going to drink. He was game and we followed him to the bar, as he stumbled through the crowd and made some sexually explicit jokes about a couple of the girls around. He got our drinks, hi fived us, then we returned to finish watching the rest of the show.

As the night came to a close I thought about my life, about how, in a town where most of my friends tend to leave, I am constantly trying to keep people close by. And I saw these people here with me, listening to REO, all after hard weeks of work and school and the basic schedules of life, and thought about how this is what we all hope for. It was slightly more sloppy than a church picnic, yet I've rarely seen believers gather with as much passion for being close than this.

You could say a group of REO loving Central Texans were missionaries of grace to me.

(there are at least three references to REO songs in this post. bragging right to anyone who is a big enough fan to locate them, without using wikipedia, itunes, or google.)

(and for your enjoyment, here is REO circa 1985...)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Celebrity Sighting...

A tall British man wandered the store the other day. Several of us, at different times, helped him find the sections he asked for. None of us, aside from James, thought much more about him than that he was just a customer browsing books. In the middle of work activities, James made the statement that he thought that guy was...

James is a master of humorous hyperbole, so we all laughed and dismissed his suggestion. But he insisted it was this guy. And the rest of us insisted it couldn't be.

The customer then proceeded to Cory, the cashier at the time. Using a form of payment that required ID, the astute cashier looked at the gentleman's name and said, "You know, you share a name with a pretty famous person." At which point the customer replied, "Yes, I was a part of a pretty famous British comedy troupe."

The person, you ask?

John Cleese-- of Monty Python, Shrek, Fish Called Wanda, Will and Grace, and SNL fame. Apparently his wife is from Waco, and they are in town visiting.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

a poem...

In the midst of all the particulars required
just to make it to the end of the day,
it's hard to step back and remember
that this great-big-Grace I hold to in theory,
which is for all people,
and all times
is also in effect
around the corners and bends,
over the hills of conflict and shame
in the hard-to-reach places.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Customer Service...

Tonight at work I accused a couple of being bad parents, to their face. I didn't use those words, but I think I got my point across. And it felt good.

Actually, it felt like shit.

The father, of Greek or Arab descent, and the mother, white with an east European accent, have two of the most beautiful little girls I've ever seen, one can't be a day over two and the other is probably around three. The family comes in a couple of times a week, in the evening. While the mom and dad read their books and magazines at the kids bench, the girls have free reign of the children's department. Books are torn and plush animals strewn all over the place. When they walk through the front door, we know work awaits.

After an especially messy night last week, I decided that I have had enough, and planned my confrontation, which came to fruition tonight.

As I walked back, the girls had already torn into several books. I told the mom, who was near them (a first) that I was going to have to ask her to keep her children close by. She immediately shot back "I clean up after my children." I told her that we've had problems in the past, that when they leave we always have more clean-up work than we can handle. She still insisted that it wasn't them, to which I replied, "Well, could you at least keep your children within arms reach of you..." (and then the statement of accusation) "... I mean, that's just common sense."

She was outraged. I actually think she was embarrassed, which is good because she should be.

Knowing she'd be pissed, I went ahead and told her I'd be happy to get our company Customer Service numbers for her, since I knew she wasn't pleased with how I talked to her. When I returned with the numbers, her husband confronted me. He told me that I should have talked to him, not his wife, and that he wanted an apology. I was speechless. I told him I would not apologize, but that I wouldn't talk to her again.

An aside-- Our president has received a lot of flack over the years for seeing the world in black and white, rather than in shades of grey. For the most part, I believe this criticism is merited. But in the heat of the emotion tonight, I remembered that some things certain cultures and religions value ARE evil. It was evil that this guy spoke of his wife like she was his property. He didn't say "Don't speak to her LIKE THAT again." He said that I should have spoken to him, not her.

(I turn into Rush Limbaugh when I'm angry.)

So anyway... I'll probably get in trouble for this, but oh well. If anything, maybe they'll keep a closer eye on those kids. I've seen pictures of a LOT worse looking kids on the side of milk cartons.

I'm really writing this so you will tell me I was right, and they were wrong, and that I'm a nice person. Because when things like this happens, I doubt...

In Between...

Under the impression that I was to have an early lunch with a friend over on the Interstate, I decided to go directly from the gym to hang out at Common Grounds, since the place I'm house sitting for is all the way out on Speegleville road.

I don't see how people live out here. Every trip to Waco takes a good amount of preparation. When leaving this morning, I had to plan out my entire day. Grab clothes to change into after working out, make sure work clothes are ready for when I come back, make sure I have all the stuff to get errands done, etc., etc. People move out to the 'burbs for a relaxing, more quite life. But it's exhausting being out here.

Anyway, I was on Hwy. 6 about to get onto IH-35 when I saw the signs I've seen a million times-- IH-35 Austin Right Lane, IH-35 Dallas Left Lane. I had one of those quiet-moment-thoughts about how this rocket ship known as the Interstate could deposit me in Cowtown, Big D, or Hippytown, in just a few minutes. People I know in each of these cities flashed across my mind and I had an ever-so-slight twinge of envy at where they were as opposed to where I am.

But it ended quickly as I got on the on ramp and began dropping the F-Bomb at the people who wouldn't let me in. I then remembered that Waco is the perfect size for me, and that the Interstate should be reserved for Big Rigs carrying my stuff to me.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


If you know me, or are just a long time reader of my blog, then you know the influence NBC's Ed had on my life. It's beginning coincided with (and even, perhaps, caused) my learning to appreciate coming from a small town. The residents of Stuckeyville reminded me that living in community, which is to say, sharing meals and conflict and stories and hopes and disasters, is where it's at.

Ed wasn't the first show that featured a cast of strange characters dead set on being themselves regardless of what society expected of them, but it was the first I fell in love with and that spoke into my psyche in ways I'm just now figuring out. I learned from these people that the little things about ourselves often referred to as "quirks," are what make people love us, in spite of our fears that they will drive others away.

Growing up, I always thought that once people were around me long enough, they would begin to see my eccentricities and be done with me. This is probably why I had a history of being possessive of friendships. I clung a little too tight, fearing they were already planning their escape from my life, and preemptively keeping them near.

I've slowly learned, however, that while these personality tics may not naturally draw people to each other, they are negligible in all of our quest to be near others. People may roll their eyes at Phil Stubbs when he cooks up another get-rich-quick scheme, or wonder what goes on in the mind of Shirley Pifko while she's staring off into space, but for the people who loved them, neither of these mattered when held against the place each of them had in the community.

This has helped me be myself a little more than I used to be comfortable with.

So, without further ado, I give you one of my quirks...

I repeat myself. I think this comes from my dad, who also repeats himself. He'll share a story or a bit of information, then make the comment "What I'm saying is...," and then repeat the same thing verbatim, all over again. I leave out the "What I'm saying is...," but I've slowly picked up on the fact that I do the same thing. I'll say something, then someone else will reply, then I'll repeat it again. I'm not exactly sure why I do it, but I think it has something to do with an ingrained feeling that no one understood what I said, or the significance of what I said, when I said it, so they probably need a little repetitive clarification. People may agree with or understand what I am saying, but I doubt it.

I hate it when I do this, but I still do it. If I do it, I'll usually glance quickly at the person I'm talking to. I want to see if they picked up on it. I really want to see if they are, now armed with the knowledge that I repeat myself, about to leave my life.

Insecurities abound. But hey, that's who I am.

Did I tell you how much I loved NBC's Ed because of my hometown and my repeating myself? Well let me tell you...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Between the Coming and the Going...

Yesterday Kyle would have turned 35.

Dugan told me several months after the accident that things will never get better, but they will get easier. It has proven to be one of a handful of sayings that was thrown my way that has stuck and that time has proven to be true. It is somewhat normal that Kyle is no longer here. This is not how it should be, but it is strangely ok. Most of our lives have become accustomed to daily life without him.

He now occupies a somewhat larger than life, almost mythical place in our stories, and I'm pretty sure he would not like this. If Kyle was anything, he was present-- always more concerned with the joy that came from touch, laughter, and irreverence, than with anyone's lofty view of who he was. But because of his influence, he did this to us, so he's going to have to live with it.

People came over last night for a cookout. I think Kyle would have been pleased that our gathering, though spurred on by his birthday, wasn't all about him. Our conversations about him were sprinkled in little asides as we talked about our right-now lives.

We held babies and made the kids laugh and there was slight bloodshed and the normal social posturing that comes with even the most emotionally mature and comfortable people.

People came and people went and I pondered how this is the story of our lives. What we do and how much we acknowledge the holiness of presence in between the coming and the going, I suppose this is the mark of a life well lived.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Be Entertained...

What does Kenny G.+ Michael Jackson + Buddy Holly + Jim Carey equal?

This guy...

I'm normally pretty content with who I am. Sometimes, however, I want to be somebody else. Today, I'd love to be this dude.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Encouraged in part by some of Carney's public wrestling with certain issues over at his blog, as well as thinking through Ben's talk Sunday about UBC's involvement with Africa, I've been trying to think globally and outside-my-world more in my daily actions. Kick my ass if I begin throwing around the phrase "social justice," because I feel those words have become buzz for "I care more than you. Especially if you consider voting Republican." But please pray for me where these things are concerned. Out of a fear of being insincere, I've been slow to this party and stalled who knows how much effective action in my world.

If you haven't read The Poisonwood Bible yet, then shame. If you have, you'll recall Adah's experience at the grocery store when she arrived back to the states. She was shocked, and a little confused, simply at the variety she had to choose from with just one item. It actually disoriented her a bit when she realized that something she had to work for weeks to acquire in Africa, she now could choose several varieties of just anything, and she didn't have to wait.

I thought of this today at H-E-B. (In fact, my second trip in as many days to the store.) I was walking along with my cart and I had this Sarah McLaughlin song titled Witness going through my mind.

will we burn in heaven
like we do down here
will the change come while we're waiting
everyone is waiting

As the song floated around I was contemplative and trying to actively think of ways I can reduce the amount of food and other things I use. I clearly don't need as much as I have, and I don't even have a lot. The song is still ringing as I pass the little kiosk with the samples of sushi. Without thinking I lifted the plastic dome that protected the food from germs, took the bottle of soy sauce to squirt on the two samples I was to eat, then popped those two bad boys in my mouth before I even had time to stop.

In the checkout like I had this realization that I ate more food in that five second corner of my day than some kid will have the entire day.

And I was shocked and in awe at the amount of effort this is going to take.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Several years ago I mentioned reading Salvation on Sand Mountain, a book about the small number of loosely connected churches scattered around the Appalachians that practice snake handling. It was extremely interesting, in that it was the springboard for many discussions I had with a couple of close friends about family, spirituality, and simplicity. Beyond being a great read at the time, it's been one of those books that has lingered in my mind for lengthy period of time. In a way, you could say it has haunted me.

Anyway, if you haven't read it, I think you'll enjoy it.

Because of the phenomenon of youtube, I was able to get a glimpse into one of the churches the author, Dennis Covington, wrote about. (The reason I know he covered them is because the middle aged lady in the blue dress toward the end of the video is on the cover of the book.)

There are obvious reasons to look at this and laugh, because it is humorous. But once I get over my feeling of intellectual superiorioty, I then have to be honest in acknowledging that, while I'll never handle snakes or drink poison, there is something deep, primal, and gloriously communal about the activities going on here.

I'd be interested in hearing what you think.


I had four errands to run this morning, all downtown. I've rarely had four errands in any given week, much less downtown. I've always believed the word "errand" to mean nothing more than an act that needs to get done, yes, but whose main purpose is to get you out of the house. Enjoying the confines of my house, I've largely avoided these things most of my life.

But there were four things I needed to get done, all downtown, all within a few blocks of each other. So I decided to perform my tasks by foot. I parked on Austin and 5th and worked my way through my errands in a clockwise motion until I arrived back at my car.

I thought about downtown and how lifeless it seemed. As in most cities the size of Waco, downtown still holds civic and business offices, furniture stores, and the occasional headquarters of a hack personal injury lawyer holed up in an upstairs office building only accessible by an old, dingy stairwell that rises above a narrow glass door.

But once five o'clock hits, people head home and the life drains away from these once bustling streets. Long before I moved to Waco, these streets were where people went to in order to see their friends in the midst of errands. But now it is an out-of-the-way inconvenience that citizens must endure before they escape to the outer limits, where houses all look alike and the "riff-raff" are kept out by gates, physical and metaphorical.

Yet if I'm to believe the talk that's been going on around here for at least seven years, probably longer, this place will be what it once was.

I'm not holding my breath, but I am holding out hope.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Just rambling...

Far too many times I am George Costanza. Plotting revenge. Living inside my head, on a quest to find the best combination of words to hurt people who I feel are deserving of a little emotional distress, because of how they have dished it out, intentionally or not. I don't want to be like this, but I am.

And then there are people who just chap my hide because of their apparent inability to say anything bad about ANYONE. Entice, tempt, lure, or just lovingly suggest their lives would be better if they expressed some anger or disdain for a certain person, and they make you feel guilty by their innocence. I am, of course, talking about the very few who are this way and really mean it. These are the rare jewels strewn randomly in obscure places. When you find these people, there is a strange interplay of attraction and revulsion. You most want to be around these people, mostly because of the way they find such good things to say about you, but you most want to stay away from them, for their love for everyone shines a light on all of us George Costanzas.

It is for things such as this that I most often find the need to pray, "I am helpless. Help."