Thursday, February 26, 2009

Giving Up...

I have heard it said that you shouldn't tell other people what you are giving up for Lent. I'm guessing the reasoning is tied in to the part in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus continually warns against doing your spiritual acts in public. He says this is what the hypocrites do, and they have received their reward in full.

I'm not quite sure this logic holds, though. For if one decides to give something up and makes it known this person is, in effect, announcing a source of weakness. Or, at the very least, making it known that there is at least something preventing that person from devoting their life fully to God.

Here I am, weak and out of control. Or, perhaps, taking too much control of my life instead of allowing God to guide. I'll spare you the Jesus Take the Wheel speech, but you get the drift.

I have given up coffee. Which, I am discovering, can be quite a bitch to give up. There is no other vice I have that tells my body how much I have grown dependent on it once it has been given up.

I am also trying to be more intentional about getting work done. Thus, the abrubt ending to this post...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday...

Remember, from dust you came, to dust you will return.

I went to school early today. When I saw my new friend Jake had the cross of ashes on his forhead, I made the comment that I saw he had already been to an Ash Wednesday service? For a moment he looked slightly puzzled as to why I knew this, then the recollection of his mark came back to him. No doubt this happened many times today all over the globe.

And this, I think, is an irony of Ash Wednesday. On most days I walk the earth very conscious of my sin, of the ways I have fallen out of step with God's rhythm, of the fact that I am nothing more than the dirt I once was and the dirt I will someday return to. But I can carry myself in such a way to make others oblivious to this fact.

On this day, however, Christians make a public declaration. In having the black stuff on our forhead as a sign of repentance, we are telling the world that on the times we forget who we are, we want you to at least be able to see it. Living in community does not provide for private acknowledgement of our sin. It requires that it is out in the open.

So know that I am so much more than the way I make you laugh or can find a book for you or can make a poignant, witty statement. I came from dust, and to dust I will return.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Lenten Journey, Fat Tuesday. Or, This is Where We Begin to Die...

This will not be the first time the body of believers over on Dutton Avenue has observed Lent. But for this part of that body, it is the first time I have felt the weight and significance of the journey ahead. I began the trek with those closest to me this evening at a Fat Tuesday feast. The necessity of this part of Lent should not be overlooked. A walk into the lonely desert is made slightly more bearable when you know there are those you love heading there with you.

I think Lent is a reminder that, as Ann Lamott says, you can't heal your own sick mind with your own sick mind. It is an acknowledgement that there are too many things clouding our vision, prohibiting us from seeing God. But mostly, it is making a statement to ourselves that we can never hope to have a Resurrection without a very real death...A death that hurts, that picks at the scab of our hearts and lets the blood flow. It is painful, in the same way that Jesus' time in the desert, and his whole life for that matter, was painful-- Walking towards death so that New Life may spring forth.

I hope you will join me in this death.
I hope you will join me in this life.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


For several years I have tried to write a book about growing up in church. This is one of those start and stop projects that may never get finished. I never get past the preface. When I start over after a year or so of not writing, I begin a new preface. I have about a half dozen prefaces just waiting to be tacked onto a yet to be written book. Since I have no time to write non-school related things, I thought I'd share the last preface I wrote. Tonight at our church Love Feast I got to sit back and watch things happen. I was joking with a couple of friends about the way people angle to try to get to hold all the kids running around. When I thought about the children in my church, I was reminded of writing this about a year and a half ago...


The church building that contained thousands of my childhood hours sits in the shadow of a newer, cavernous tin structure that has become commonplace among the small towns along Highway 31, which runs northeast from Waco, my current home, until it ends in Longview, the area where my parents grew up. The older building is made of a tan brick that is porous enough to hold the stories, secrets, milestones and memories of generations of people trying to discover how their lives, individual and corporate, fit in with the plans of a God who created the pine and oak that tower above the countryside surrounding them. The newer building was erected with an eye toward efficiency. Inexpensive and expansive, were it not for its size and cross perched atop a center column of red brick pointing to the sky, it would be indistinguishable from the numerous “dollar stores” that every small East Texas town apparently needs these days. It cost next to nothing, and remembers about as much.

As a young child I was held in that old sanctuary by the wooden pews with red-lined seat covers. The words coming from the mouths of preachers swirled around me and seeped into my soul as I learned the language of faith the same way any child learns any language— effortlessly and with little deliberate intention. I devoted my energies instead to discovering how long it took for me to sit on my hands before the miniscule diamond patterns of the upholstery would temporarily be imprinted on my flesh, and trying to count the amount of square ceiling tiles above my head. Eventually times would arrive when sitting through an entire church service would be laborious and excruciating, but I remember these early years as being a period of comfort, where even in a scary and uncertain world there would always be waiting for me a place where I felt secure, and where I was welcome to take a nap in the laps of numerous people who loved me as their own.

The sheet metal of the new building seems to me a little too contrived and sterile to hold the memories of the past, but if you get down on your knees and place your ears to the ground it sits on, you will hear the stories of a community of people fractured by animosity, incapable of breaking out of the human condition of brokenness and confusion, struggling to find an identity in those middle places between poor and rich, town and country, saint and sinner, yet clinging as hard as they are capable to God and God’s people. And in those stories you will find the preface and introduction to my life story, a story spent in the pews and chairs of around a half-dozen Baptist churches scattered in places as disparate as an old Safeway building in Waco, TX to an aging and dingy house of worship in a former Soviet Republic.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What you Will...

"Don't you ever doubt it?" Davy asked?

And in fact I have. And perhaps will again. But here is what happens. I look out the window at the red farm-- for here we live, Sara and I, in a new house across the meadow, a house built by capable arms and open lungs and joyous sweat. Maybe I see our daughter, home from school, picking plums or apples for Roxanna; maybe one of our sons, reading on the grass or painting an upended canoe. Or maybe Sara comes into the room-- my darling Sara-- with Mr. Cassidy's beloved rolls on a steaming plate. Then I breathe deeply, and certainty enters into me like light, like a piece of science, and curious music seems to hum inside my fingers.
Is there a single person on whom I can press belief?
No sir.
All I can do is say, Here's how it went. Here's what I saw...
Make of it what you will.

-- From Leif Enger's Peace Like a River


A few years ago a customer asked me for a book that had true ghost stories in them. I took her to the section where such books were and asked if she had any more questions. She pressed her point. "So these are TRUE ghost stories? You know, that REALLY happened?" I took the opportunity to try and educate her, telling her that some would say they are true, while others would express doubt. I walked away feeling quite smug and satisfied with myself.

Today a lady asked me for books on UFO's. I took her to the section and helped her look. I told her about a popular book on the subject. As I found it and began to grab it, she asked the million dollar question. "So are these things that really happened?" By the time she finished her sentence I had the book in my hand. Looking at the subtitle that read True Stories, I replied "Apparently so," and was shocked at the lack of cynicism in my voice.

This is where I am with God. There are times when I know. These times generally occur in the presence of others and include laughter, unspoken sentiment, shared stories. Toddlers joyfully thrown in the air, drinks consumed, the worlds problems solved over good food. This is when I know. It is during such times that if you ask me about God's work in the world, about Jesus and his death and resurrection, about the Spirit that breathes life into all living things, and if you end your question with "Is all this real?," then I will tell you of course it is real.

But there are other times like today. Cynicism, exhaustion, and a (perhaps unreasonable) feeling of alienation all serve to cast sufficient doubt on what I claim to believe. But even in these, there is the seed of belief. Last night I watched Jesus Camp for the first time. The portrayal of children involved in a pentecostal/evangelical ministry with militant overtones served its purpose of weirding me out. The absolute certainty instilled in such young minds is frankly quite scary. But there were also moments that made me hopeful for these children, and they were moments of doubt. Every now and then, in the middle of the screaming and the induced tears and the sharing of the gospel, a look of doubt would be cast over the faces of these children. Doubt that I know all too well. There was even a moment when one of the children expressed how hard it is to believe sometimes. It was during these moments of doubt that I saw possibility, for doubt clears the fields and provides ample space for God to dance, "proving," if you will, that he is still in the neighborhood.

Do you remember the question the preachers used to ask us? "Do you know that you know that you know that you know?" Of course I don't. I have had doubts and, like Enger's character in Peace Like a River, I will probably have doubts again. But I'm comforted in the fact that I'm not called to certainty, I'm called to proclaim that which I have found to be true.

Make of that what you will.

Friday, February 06, 2009


I occasionally write letters to the editor of the Waco Tribune Herald, but never get them in the print edition. But my latest made the cut. it was in response to THIS GUEST EDITORIAL.

Here is the (I must humbly admit) very witty letter I sent that was printed...

No booing allowed (This was an editorial addition that I'm quite disappointed with. It made me look like a whining child. But oh well, maybe I am.)

In his guest column, Mark Osler [“Carried by loving mob,” Jan. 24] commented that those really being inaugurated Jan. 20 were the large crowd assembled on the mall in Washington D.C. If this is the case, I would like to suggest a resolution of censure be passed for their unpatriotic disrespect to an outgoing president.

This “loving mob” rightly cheered President Barack Obama’s encouragement that our country put childish ways behind us, then engaged in behavior befitting children by booing President Bush.

If you ask me, this is not a good starting point for the millions “inaugurated” that day.

Craig Nash


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Real Conversation on the Phone with a Customer This Morning...

Me: Thanks for calling Barnes and Noble, this is Craig. How can I help you?

Lady Caller: Yeah, is there any kind of book that has stuff about Paula Deen's life in it, not just recipes?

Me: I'm not sure, let me look in the computer. I know several of her cookbooks have little sections with biographical information in them.

Caller: Well, I don't want any of that biographical information stuff. I just want stuff about her life.

Me: Oh, ok. Well some of her cookbooks have stuff about her life along with the biographical tidbits.

Caller: Great, I'll take one of those.