Monday, July 30, 2007


Sorry it's been a week since I posted anything. I haven't been in one place long enough this summer to get a good routine going. All that will change this week, as I'll be moving into a new place.

I've got a lot of stuff rolling around in my brain, so look for some blog activity in the near future.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Not sick at all...

Several days ago Jen came into the store to get coffee before she left for a weekend in Houston. She told me the kids were out in the car and wanted to see me. I walked out to talk to them. This happens from time to time, but for some reason it was an especially wonderful experience. I leaned into the vehicle to get hugs and talk for a few moments. I made the comment that it's been such a long time since I've seen them. Upon hearing this Jude, almost five, reached up and placed the palm of his hand on my cheek. With the concerned look of a seasoned nurse he asked, "Have you been sick?"

I then talked to Jen for a moment. It was one of those very special "Wow, they sure are growing up" conversations. A few days before Avery was at lunch with some of us. I noted how well she had behaved and how much fun we had. Jen agreed that all three were maturing into well behaved little kids. There was almost a sigh of relief wafting throughout the conversation, as if a very difficult season had officially come to an end.

In the silence I looked over at Sutton, sitting politely in his seat. He gave a smile and reached out for another hug. I said goodbye then went back into work.

Later in the day I was leaving the gym, thinking about the pleasant interaction that had occured earlier. I chuckled at Jude asking me if I had been sick, and thought what a compassionate human being he has become. I thought about how much Avery has grown and how Sutton has remained about the most loving person I've ever known. The countenance on my face must have given me away, for when I passed a lady in the parking lot that I know by face from several places around town, she said, "Wow, you look like you're in love."

She was correct.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tammy Faye Messner...

One of the big conversations bandied around in Evangelical circles is the question of how do we approach, think about, feel about, act towards, talk to... the outsider. The gamut runs from total isolation in the vein of the Amish, to total animosity towards, which certain fundamentalists have mastered, to an amalgamation of infiltration-assimilation-admiration, as many of my emergent cohorts have perfected.

We can only speculate, based on the best available evidence, what Jesus would do. But about as near as I've seen someone get to the ideal, in pop culture anyway, was in Tammy Faye Messner's appearances on VH1's The Surreal Life a few years ago. Sure, she's a part of a camp of American Christianity that went astray many years ago in its embracing of material wealth as a sign of true spirituality, and perhaps she did more than anyone to trivialize the ancient faith of those who follow the Christ. But at the core, she got it right. She loved. She looked through the inadequacies, quirks, and (yes) sin of those around her and she loved. And in company with those who were different, she was respectful, kind, and always ready to say what I would make fun of someone for saying, but which needs to be said more, which is that Jesus loves you.

Tammy Faye Messner died yesterday, she was 65.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Check THIS ARTICLE out. Britt told me about it. If you've never had a stake in Baptist politics, it will probably put you to sleep. But for those of us who grew up Baptist, and actually don't mind being called Baptist , it is interesting. I fully expect a discussion from Luke, Aaron, and Mark P. (if he's still lingering around,) since they are the last few friends of mine still involved in SBC life.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


So here's some bullets for you to keep up with my life through--

-- In a couple of weeks I move into a new place. Hopefully, "Lord willin' and the creek don't rise," it will be the last place I ever rent. As of now it's me and three-soon-to-be-four other guys that I only know through email exchanges. (I kind of know one of them from church.) It will be an interesting transitional experience for me. The cool thing is that it's right around the corner from the boys, and now Avery's, school. So they can just walk right on over in the afternoons when school is in session. I'm really looking forward to that proximity.

The house is also right down the road from Planned Parenthood, which provides a good segue to the next bullet...

-- The Nobody's Fool wars have begun. Every summer about this time Planned Parenthood puts on a program for kids going into (I think) 9th grade, which is basically a sex-ed course, and I'm quite sure abortion is a topic of discussion as well. There's a rival organization, the MCAAP, (not sure what that stands for completely, but the MC is for "Mclennan County" and one of the A's is for "Abstinence." MCAAP also puts on a program as well, and the billboard wars are quite the rave around downtown. Just the other day I was running down Washington and noticed about every other house had either a Planned Parenthood or an MCAAP sign up. Must be contentious living in those neighborhoods.

-- In case you were wondering about my position, I'm more liberal than I used to be, but more conservative than many of my friends will ever be. There should be an organization, like Planned Parenthood, that doesn't have the blinders of denial of what's going on with kids, but with the passionate indignation toward abortion that groups like MCAAP show. I'm not looking for it, because I've worked with the public long enough to know that there are few sensible people left, but it's a good thing to dream.

-- On a totally different note from the killing of unborn children, I'm excited about the next few weeks, as I'll be seeing many of my old friends that have been away for a long time. Tim and Isabel will be back in Texas for a couple of weeks from Germany. My old friend Jessica from ETBU will be moving to Waco. And the one I'm most excited about is my very close friends Jason and Christy are coming home from Thailand to be in Dallas. August is going to be a busy month.

-- And lastly, just two days until Harry Potter. No, I haven't read them. Every time a new one comes out I promise myself I am going to read through them all to catch up. But I fear it's too late. Working at a bookstore, I'm afraid there will be no way I'll be able to NOT find out what happens at the end. But it is all exciting, even if I don't understand it all. If you are in Waco, you should definitely stop by the party at Barnes and Noble beginning at 8:00. I am not exaggerating when I say it will be probably one of the best HP parties anywhere in the country.

Cheers, for now.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Starvation Heights...

The people who come into our store looking for books in the genre of True Crime are usually missing a prominent tooth, give you a ten feet olfactory warning that they are heavy smokers, and look like they can beat the innards out of you simply with a verbal tirade. They also usually ask for the nonfiction section. (If you ever want to be made fun of ala Jack Black in High Fidelity, walk into a Barnes and Noble and ask for the Nonfiction section.) They are the people who occupy what we call the "margins of society."

I'm currently reading a True Crime book, and I'm considering taking it up as my primary source of information acclimation.

The story is about Linda Burfield Hazzard, a hack "doctor" in the woods of Washington State about a hundred years ago who made a killing, pun intended, by "treating" patients with her "revolutionary fasting cure." The people she treated tended to be wealthy and highly susceptible to delirium when deprived of food for a couple of weeks, making them likely to sign over power of attorney to Hazzard. There were daily enemas involved. It wasn't long before their bank accounts were also wiped clean. Oh, and most of them died. It's a creepy story, full of greed, lust, and what happens when one person is gifted with powers of mental suggestion and manipulation. It reminds me of about a half-dozen preachers and "worship leaders" I've known over the years.

It also reminds me how totally jacked up the human race is. To get all religious on your asses, I'll just say that I can't believe anyone who reads these books can come to the end of them without the knowledge that we are all lost and in need of saving, whatever that means to you. I cling to the fact that their is divinity lingering in everyone, because we were all created in God's image. But reading stories like this reminds me that I also believe Paul's recitation that there is none righteous, no not one. It's a tension I struggle with daily.

That's all I've got for now. I need to get back to the book... Dr. Hazzard is about to go on trial.

Monday, July 16, 2007


I've spent part of the morning updating and adding some links. Fiddling with those things feels like the episode of Seinfeld , when the girl Jerry was dating used her speed dial as a relationship gauge. I've tried to refrain from this. It should not be deduced that Robert Butler is my 35th favorite friend because he is so far down. On the contrary, if I were given to such junior highish inclinations of rating my friends (I am,) Robert would definitely be in the single digits. It's just that Robert hasn't blogged at that particular address in so long, and I am much to lazy to highlight his information and hit 'delete.'

I've updated some address and added some links. I considered deleting some of you who haven't blogged in this calendar year, but again, I'm too lazy.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Don't let my crops run dry...

I'm sitting in one of my new favorite restaurants, The World Cup Cafe, listening to one of my new favorite singers, Jason Aldean, belt out his song Amarillo Sky over the intercom. It doesn't get much more urban (in Waco, anyway) than the location of the restaurant, and there are few songs out that are as country as Amarillo Sky. And yet there are about a half dozen voices, all quite diverse, humming it as if they plan on leaving the "hood" in just a few moments to crank up their John Deere and "take the tractor another round and pull the plow across the ground."

On the surface, this may seem odd. But the life of the American Farmer is really not much different than the life of the working poor in the inner city. Both are talked about among intellectuals and social activists, yet are practically invisible during our day to day lives. Both struggle, but laugh a lot. The desperation of both necessitates that they cry out to God to just get them through the day.

Oh, that we would all be as desperate as these...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Book For Me...

Here's how I read the Bible...

1. Turn to the Old Testament. If you want to be anti-establishment, you must begin here. Everyone turns to Jesus or Paul first, and I don't want to be like everyone. The gospels and Paul's epistles have been done to death. Rob Bell is cool, what with the glasses and frosted hair, he knows tons about the Old Testament, so this is where we begin. The O.T. is all about story and narrative and since that's seems to be a good thing to support these days, the O.T. it is.

2. After I get a few verses into a story, my mind stops thinking about what is actually going on and moves into a remembrance of Mrs. Wanda or Mrs. Mallet or Mrs. Debbie or Mrs. Allison , telling me this particular story for the first time. Felt boards, olive oil tastings, and nature walks, all object lessons, return to me and I think about them and not Jacob or Rebekah. At about this time I have the thought that I've already heard the story, and if I haven't after almost 33 years in church then it MUST not be important, then I move on to...

3. Jesus. Jesus is our guy, because he is the Christ, which is where "Christian" comes from. Since that's what I am, then I should focus on the person who is the root word of my faith. But the same problems arise... I've heard it all before. Everything I read is part of the greatest story ever told, but it's been told and told and told.

4. The letters, primarily of Paul. This is the good stuff. These are the quotables, full of phrases that will make you look like you know what's going on if you drop them here and there in conversation. But then Paul will say something that will totally piss me off, because many times he's about the most arrogant person I've ever read. (I think this is why many Christian young men love Paul so much.)

5. I eventually end up in the Psalms, because I can pray them. But all good things must come to an end, and for me it happens when there's a Psalm about beating the shit out of your enemies. That's not my style, so I don't roll any further.

About the biggest rock star at ETBU was Dr. Bob, a religion prof who specialized in hermeneutics. In the first class I ever had with him, he made this comment that has stuck with me, and has proven it's veracity time and again, even to the point of building in intensity as the years go... He said that every time you read the Bible, it's never just you and God and the text. There's always a million voices whispering in your ear, from Martin Luther to John Calvin to Augustine.

For me, as the years progress, it's not even just those giants. I read scripture and walking with me are all those dudes, as well as voices as disparate as Brian McLaren and John McArthur, Ann Lamott and Billy Graham. The experience of losing my best friend, my relationship with my parents, high school band, my writing, career struggles, Ed and Grey's Anatomy, and a million other factors walk with me and speak to me as I seek to pore through what really are the Wonderful Words of Life.

And so I thumb through, really no better at reading scripture now than I was in third grade Sunday School-- just with a more extensive vocabulary and less curious mind. But I still return, time and again. Because occasionally, and I think you know what I mean, every once and a while, the words on the page wriggle a little and, if you watch really carefully and let them, they'll dance. Usually it's about 1% of the time that this happens. But when it does, it's worth it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

a book...

Klosterman's Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs has been on my reading list for quite some time now. Yesterday, with time on my hands, I picked it up... and fell in love. This dude is funny, insightful, and can take anything and make it interesting. There's a chapter about Country Music that I finished with my fists in the air screaming "Preach on, Brother Chuck!" Here's a quote...

"...The reason Garth Brooks and Shania Twain have sold roughly 120 million more albums than Bob Dylan and Liz Phair is not because record buyers are all a bunch of blithering idiots; it's because Garth and Shania are simply better at expressing the human condition. They're less talented, but they understand more people.

The paradox, of course, is that I'm writing this essay while staring at my CD rack, which currently holds seventeen Dylan and Phair records and exactly three country records released after 1974. And in a weird way, that makes me happy. I have at least one thing in common with Bob Dylan: Neither of us understands how the world works. When push comes to shove, we're both Reba's bitch."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I found myself recently in a conversation with a lady at the Barnes and Noble in Tyler about Christianity. I'm not sure how it ended up there, since it began with her, out of the blue, asking me if I'd ever been to Europe. I suppose it wasn't totally "out of the blue," as we were standing in the travel section. Regardless, it landed on Christianity.

She told me she was a Christian, but also a Buddhist and a believer in New Age. She gave her own version of the "all paths lead to God" speech. I told her that ten years ago it would have freaked me out hearing someone say those things, but that I'm much more open these days. I said that I'm still not where she is, because I have problem reconciling her views with what I believe Jesus taught, but that I can understand and respect where she was coming from. Apparently she took my words that I'm "still not where she is" to mean, that someday I WILL be there. She then told me, in the sweetest manner possible, that it's ok, because I'm younger than her and she has actually STUDIED world religions.

Yesterday I received a response to THIS POST, from over a year ago. In an otherwise respectful reply, the gentleman made this comment... "I guess you must`ve listened to the wrong guy or read the wrong book and blindly or should I say ignorantly made a conclusion."

I just love how people have found creative ways of saying "You don't know what the hell you're talking about," while attempting to appear humble and gentle. It's as if their mom is whispering in one ear "Be nice," and their dad in the other "WIN,WIN, WIN."

I believe people become this way when they have lost, or have never cultivated, a sense of genuine curiosity. I am drawn to those who see people as endless supplies of stories and perspectives, not as subjects to sway to their respective camps of thought. This is the weakness of the evangelical youth culture I was reared in. I went to camps to learn how to be a "soul winner." I was taught how to help the lost become found. Never once was I told that the people I run across who believe different from me actually have something to speak into my life.

I'm still not there, but I'm trying...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Long Time Coming...

Alright, here goes... The 29% of people who still have a favorable view of the president just lost one of their own. Loyalty must now take a back seat to common sense.

My slow defection began with Katrina, intensified with a failure of proper planning in Iraq, and ended with Libby. A federal judge, appointed by the President, exercised a judicial philosophy of staying firmly within sentencing guidelines, which has been what the administration has long held up as the standard, only to be told by the President that he went too far.

If you are going to be political, go all out Big Willy style (Mark Rich) and be political. Pardon the son-of-a-bitch and live with the consequences, don't pretend to believe something you don't believe, which is that the sentencing went too far.

I've yet to determine who to throw my vote to the next time around. Any hope of a defection to the Democrats was quickly thwarted once I heard them all use the term "Rule of Law" to denounce Bush's decision to commute Libby's sentence. It's further proof that no one truly understands what "Rule of Law" means, for this is the same phrase thrown around by the G.O.P. eight years ago during the Lewinsky scandal, when the Dems were crying "it's all about sex."

The Rule of Law means that regardless of how egregious or innocuous the offense is, whether it led to the revelation of a semen-stained blue dress or a war, we hold people accountable to the law.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Bury My Heart...

People return from Africa and proclaim they left their hearts there. I never used those words, but when I came home from a summer in Estonia back in '96, it felt as if my heart was stuck in that tiny Baltic country. I suppose we all leave our hearts in that place where we were first shaken with the reality that our sight has been severely limited for most of our lives. We return from these places and they become our new reference point. Be it an overseas trip or just a week at church camp, everything will, for a while, be a comparison between this place and that place.

Eventually, though, the inertia of normalcy begins to slowly reorient our hearts to the dirt we are standing on. But if we are lucky, and perhaps a little deliberate in how we live our lives, we will still be affected, and allow the experience of those places to add brighter colors and deeper dimensions to the worlds we now occupy. These places will slowly cease to overpower our conversation. Yet we come to find that not only were our hearts left in these places, these places were also left in our hearts. They bubble up from time to time and we realize who we are now is a result of our being thrown into an alternate reality where the food is different and the people "talk funny."

May our lives and communities be shaped by these places. May the joy of African Christians, unable to hold in their excitement over redemption, move our feet to the rhythmic pulse of the gospel. May the devotion of an Estonian widow, whose husband was murdered fifty years ago by secret police for speaking the name Jesus, pull our hearts closer to the message that demands our all. May the community that is necessary for survival in poor and rural churches all over the south, inspire us to be family for each other. May we take it all in, and may we let it all out.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


A contest among six children to determine which has the cutest smile is exploitive and places competition in an arena where it shouldn't' exist. Let the Waco Tribune Herald know that by going HERE and voting for #2, Jude Lake. By doing this, you will send a strong message that we will not have this kind of nonsense.

(Besides, it's unfair for any kid to go up against a Lake kid in a looks competition.)

(Thanks Blair.)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Over the Bridge...

To get from Waco to the Tyler area and back, you usually drive down Highway 31. Occasionally, however, you should allow Highway 31 to happen to you. It is during these times when your car remains still while the little towns that all look the same do all the work and pass through you. Today, it happened to me.

I went home to be with family for the 4rth of July and timed my return to coincide with dusk, so I could be treated to the firework displays all along the highway sky. After passing Malakoff and noticing the old black couple who were sitting on their front porch shelling peas this morning had gone inside for the evening, I approached Trinidad and the Trinity River Bridge that rises out of nowhere. Before I got there I looked to my side to see the fields flooded. The tops of barbed-wire fence posts were sticking out of the water and the embankment of the highway was elevated in such a way to give the impression that I was driving down into a lake, filled the brim.

As I arrived to the bridge I marveled at the beauty of the sky. The sun, just over the horizon, appeared to be surrounded by millions of mirrors reflecting purples and pinks and oranges onto the rushing river. I've been listening to Patty Griffin, and at the top of the bridge the second verse to When It Don't Come Easy hit my ears. It was here that Patty sang to me:

I don't know nothing except change will come
Year after year what we do is undone
Time gets moving from a crawl to a run
I wonder if we're ever going to get home

As I passed the apex and descended back to the real world, I had a flash back to two years ago, Independence Day. Somehow everyone was out of town except Kyle, Jen, the kids, and me. We decided to take in the celebrations downtown. Knowing the river area gets packed for the fireworks, we headed there early. The kids, Avery almost five and the boys almost three at the time, were being, to use Kyle's exact words, "little shits." We didn't just not make it to the fireworks, we didn't even make it to dark before Kyle and Jen decided that the evening just wasn't going to happen.

When they dropped me off at my house, they were embarrassed and apologetic, probably thinking they had somehow ruined my evening. What they didn't realize was that, for me, a few minutes of pure chaos and stress is just fine with me, as long as it is shared with people I love. It was unknown to them that two years down the road, I would long for that night that they perceived to be an awful disaster.

And that I'd wonder if I'll ever get home...

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Richer or Poorer?...

The cover story of Christianity Today this month is about how the prosperity gospel has swept through the churches of Africa. I believe this is fascinating, as it seems to be coinciding with a newfound interest in embracing poverty among American evangelicals. It's ironic that we are beginning to realize how our wealth has blinded us to the plight of the global poor, only to find that the global poor are clinging to a gospel of wealth that we have exported to them.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Falling from the Sky, Calling from the Graves...

"'s hard to give, it's hard to get, but everybody needs a little forgiveness..." -- Patty Griffin

Most of the time the only thing keeping me in a low-paying, dead end job is the opportunity I am oft afforded to place a book in someone's hand that could possibly cause a seismic, or perhaps incrementally small, shift in the way they see or experience God and the life he longs for us to live. In many ways this has become my mission. If I can't be a Christian Superstar, (and admit it, growing up that is what many of us longed for,) then at least I can affect a small handful of people who wander into a bookstore, desperate for an answer to whatever ails them at the time.

Yesterday an attractive girl in her early to mid-20's, wearing her Sunday best, asked me if I knew any good Christian books on forgiveness. After my initial thoughts of "Who hurt you and how can I make it better? Perhaps dinner?," passed, I then thought of a couple of things I've read on the subject and proceeded to tell her about them. The first was the chapter in Ann Lamott's Traveling Mercies that told the story of the author's struggle to forgive the woman known as her enemy-lite. This funny and memorable tale exposes how our need to show forgiveness often exposes how we are actually the ones who are in the wrong and need to be forgiven.

Then I handed her a copy of Finding God at Harvard, one of the greatest and far reaching collection of essays on the Christian life I've ever read. In it, the highly respected child psychologist, and Christian, Robert Coles retells the story of Ruby Bridges, the little girl who faced the hate of segregationists in New Orleans when she became one of the first black children to attend a historically white school, and was the inspiration for the famous Norman Rockwell painting The Problem We All Deal With. Coles shares with the reader Bridges' great faith and her insistence on praying daily for those who showed up daily to protest and to call the little 10 year old the worst names possible. We hear in the story echoes of Jesus' call for us to become like little children, and realize that even in issues as complicated as forgiveness, the "least of these" can teach us a lot.

I then told her that The Kite Runner, while not a Christian book, (it was, in fact, written by a Muslim,) is a fictional tale that mines the depths of human relationships, and gives one of the most healing quotes on forgiveness I've ever read: "I wonder if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night." It is a hard lesson to learn, because it insists that time, and a lot of living, is necessary to attain true forgiveness.

Three books were placed in her hand, yet I knew more may be needed to ensure she actually purchase something. I am, after all, also in the business of making money. So I looked up in our database all the Christian books we had solely dedicated to forgiveness. I found a couple, which were basic instruction manuals in the line of "Here's everything you need to know about forgiveness," and handed them to her. Later I found my first three recommendations in the pile of books to be placed back on the shelves, and saw that one of the others I had given her had been purchased.

One of my friend Matt Singleton's soapboxes is that there is as much theology to be learned from great fiction (and, I assume by extension, great narrative nonfiction,) as from any amount of systematic theology or Christian self-help. I.E., if you really want to learn something about God, listen to the stories of people experiencing real life. I couldn't agree more.

But many people don't want to hear this. Somewhere along the way the keepers-of-the-orthodox-gate insisted that for something to be helpful, all the "impurities" of human activity and interaction must be boiled away before the truth is revealed. The problem is that no one experiences life this way. These "impurities"-- the dirt of words poorly chosen, our human tendency to live lives caved in on ourselves, as Eugene Peterson would say, and a total neglect for the welfare of others-- These are the things of life and the stories that must be told before forgiveness can be known.

I hope the attractive girl in her Sunday best learned all she needed about forgiveness. Something tells me she got what she was looking for, but probably not what she needed. When she discovers this, maybe she'll come back and I can take her out to dinner, tell her a few stories. Maybe make some of our own.