Friday, September 15, 2006

And to top it all off, I'm craving chocolate...

This is what I get for listening to God when I woke up at at 4:00 this morning (don't ask). Two really cool analogies popped into my mind, and I've been whittling them away at them today piecemeal in-between grading papers all day long. Before I let them out to play, though, (a) I'm going to let them brew in my noggin for a little while longer, and (b) I'm going to go get a crapload of caffeine to make it through the rest of today:
  • Leadership and love -- what's the connection? (And for those of you who know me and the less-than-complete-love I have for John Maxwell [I respect him, but...eh. Not my cup of tea], you'll find it nothing shy of humorous that I have a leadership story to tell)
  • The modern church system and college Greek systems: separated at birth?

Oh, yeah. This is going to be fun...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

So when can I expect my check?!?!?

According to this website, Ye Olde Kangaroo here is worth almost two grand (as of this typing).

Never would'a seen that coming.

Friday, September 01, 2006

God/dog. Dog/God.

(Originally written at 5:29 am, Tuesday August 29 – this version has been retyped and edited to make it sound smarter than my sleep-deprived self wrote it originally)


Maggie. Maggie Lester, soon to be Maggie Lester-Lemmons. Maggie is, technically speaking, still Ashley’s dog, but she has been living with me (and Cricket, my dog of almost 13 years now) in my apartment since November of 2004. Although there was a period of adjustment between Maggie and Cricket, Maggie now very much thinks of me as “daddy” (for as much as a dog is capable of thinking), and she has grown to love me, just as I have grown to love her. Funny that; I initially volunteered to play host home for Maggie because Ashley couldn’t have a dog in her apartment on campus, and not to try and curry any favor with Ashley and have her fall head-over-heels in love with me because I was keeping her puppy. Granted, I’m glad that it helped, but still…

God, in all of His infinite wisdom and coolness, sometimes uses Maggie & Cricket to give me insight about His love towards me is. Whether it’s the fact that Cricket, with her stinky breath, wants to give me a kiss (because sometimes I feel like the best I can offer God is my own stinky kisses) or whether It’s the way that they both just get so happy when I come into their presence (reminding me of how I am supposed to be with Him), or the way that I love them, even when they make a mess in the house – it’s kind of humbling and amazing just how many parallels I can draw from my own life when I consider these two fuzzballls.

This morning, Maggie drove the point home in a way only she could. Probably around 4:00 in the morning, she came up to the side of my bed and started whining. LOUDLY. Maggie has fallen into this bizarre sleeping pattern of when sometimes; she apparently just needs me to be with her, to hug her, and to sleep by me. Now, I’m a big enough of a softie that when I crawl into bed every night, I’d love for Maggie and Cricket both to jump in and we all fall asleep together, one big bundle of cuddles. But, Cricket sis now too old to jump on and off the bed, and Maggie gets pernickety sometimes and doesn’t give a crap about being anywhere near me when she sleeps.

Maggie doesn’t want to be petted and loved on unless it’s on HER terms, and at her time. She’s much happier to run around the apartment, free-willed and independent as all get-out, chewing on her stuffed squeaky “chicken,” trying – on rare occasion – to get me to play with her. And even though I’d rather show her my love, she’d rather run free. …sound familiar?

However, this morning, all I knew was that her cries indicated she wanted to be loved on. By me. So, I scooted over in bed, and gave her my side, the side I had been on all night long. As soon as I moved over, she jumped up, lie down beside me, and promptly fell asleep. She just wanted to be with me.

Now keep in mind – she’s a dog. And the way she sleeps is not how I would choose to sleep. Unlike a human, she does not lay head-to-foot in the bed like a person; she lies ACROSS the bed, length-wise. So, what do I do? I move again. I move from lying where I am to laying where she is; I move to love on her where she is. And she doesn’t stir. In fact, she’d probably still be laying there with my arm around her if I hadn’t felt God compelling me to get up and write this down.

And here’s where it gets even more fun: once I got out of bed to go into the living room, it turns out the little snot had actually done something she wasn’t supposed to do in the house. See, I have this peace lily in my living room that Maggie, for reasons I cannot explain, loves to chew on. I tell her not to, I move the plant away, and every time – she keeps coming back to it, eating it, getting sick and throwing up. Now, could I have gotten angry (again) and gotten on to her? Yeah, I could’ve – but I looked into my bedroom, and I saw her as a puppy, my “child,” if you will, and not as a belligerent and obstinate thing. She didn’t feel good, she was sick from doing something she wasn’t supposed to do, and she simply needed some love and reassurance from her “daddy.” Totally a “prodigal” moment if there ever was one.

It’s a little bit mind-blowing, the way God uses the people – and loved ones (which would be Maggie & Cricket, in case you weren’t keeping score) – in our lives to illustrate His love for us. Simple? Yeah. But sometimes, the simple is all we need to remind us of His love.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

SUMMER 2006: Summit Camp Video

You know, just when I start to wonder about the hows and whys of my life, I remember these kids, and how much they have meant to me over the course of the last year (or two).

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Slice n' dice

"Neutered." That's how someone at work described the way I've been acting for the last few days. Emotionally and personality wise. Neutered. Totally non-Sonny-esque.

It's been bad. Not like before; this is a new level of badness. Imagine if you will, you get into a professional disagreement with someone who is technically your supervisor, but is also your peer. The disagreement was over a minor procedural issue, but this person then takes the opportunity to set up a meeting to discuss the issue and -- for two hours straight and in front of your supervisor -- explain how little they think of you personally and professionally. That your personality, your you-ness, is what makes them think of you so poorly.

Even though this individual is someone whose opinion has not mattered to me before (and really -- they didn't gain any brownie points with this little experience), and their opinion won't mean jack to me in the future...

It still hurts, and it cuts to the quick to have your essence of who you are judged, and to be told that you are unprofessional because of the way your personality is. Which is what this was in essence about - a conflict of personalities. Those of you who know me -- you know my personality. Go 180 degrees from that, and then have that sit and judge me.

Today's the first day since Friday (8-18-06) that I haven't felt totally worthless. I actually feel just mostly worthless today.

Sad that that's an improvement...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

DEE DEE DEE!

Tonight. Live at the University of Georgia:

Carlos Mencia.

I'm looking at my ticket right now, and it makes me a happy Sonny.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The exhaustion from training the staff has finally gotten to me...

So, I woke up at 4:17 this morning because I had a nightmare that one of my graduate residents tried to kill me.

And I couldn't go back to sleep, because the dream was so VIVID -- he had these three thugs corral me into a men's restroom that was being renovated. It was full of exposed wiring, and they were continually shocking me with the wires while he just...watched.

Paging Dr. Freud...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Wither mine postage?

Okay -- I'm recuperating from a kayaking accident -and- I just found out that a friend of the family died last night.

Life. Welcome to the interruptions.

Postings will continue as soon as I can sit down and gather my thoughts.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIAN: update #2

Would you agree that pastors are not, to quote Neo, "regular people?" Why or why not? Does this tension contribute to the difficulty Dan has with self-disclosure? What risks are involved when a person cannot be honest?

Well, ignoring the obvious pun in my mind about NO pastor I've ever met being normal...I'd say that we, as the lay people, make them abnormal.

Let me explain: whether consciously or not, we place them on a pedestal. We look to our leaders to be strong moral guides, which is what they should be. Those who lead ARE held to a higher standard, but that does not mean that they should be or can be super-human and unable to be real.

As a lay leader (please SOMEONE invent a new term; I'll give you $5), I find that I am placed on a pedestal by many people. Its very, very, very difficult to be open at first with people who look up to you. I could site examples from the junior/senior high school kids I work with and/or the college and singles there are some people, who -- developmentally speaking, cognitively, emotionally and/or spiritually -- are not in a place where they can accept their leaders as human.

And we who are the leaders (God help me if I ever worked full-time in a church; I'd either be loved or burned as a heretic) do this to ourselves as well. Think about it, those of you with me or who are like me, those of us who serve as leaders: can you honestly say that you put on your true face when dealing with your peers? I know that sometimes I don't. To be certain, I don't lie or put on a false face, but do I at times put on a lovely veneer of everything is alright in Sonnyland JUST because I find it hard to say, "I'm hurting about this today" or "I haven't felt as close to God as I think I should," or something similar?

When you can't be honest with your peers, your friends, colleagues and FAMILY in this struggle of life -- you can't be honest with yourself. You wind up believing the lie that everything is alright, and as someone whose degree is based in Counseling: that's a load'a crap that will hurt and potentially destroy you further down the road. It almost did me.

Why? Why can I not just look at a friend and say I feel like crying today? Why? Why can I not just feel comfortable enough with a brother or sister whose opinions and advice I routinely seek about comparatively trivial matters...why can I not just open up to the...to show the wounds, struggles, fears, pain and love that I have inside?

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What kind of posture do friends take towards one another? What postures do we normally assume when we talk about matters of faith? What do you think it means to use a term like posture when talking about how people engage each other relationally?

Ha. Posture. Good one -- this is almost a no-brainer: think about how when you're talking to someone that you care about and you feel comfortable with. Duh. Your posture is eased, relaxed -- you don't sit or stand there with folded arms, or with any other kind of overt body language that might make you come across as guarded. But -- and this just occurred to me -- I think one of MY problems is that I presume that many of my friends will assume my same posture/stance on an issue (if not physical stance), and I think I come into these discussions a little more unguarded than I normally would.

This translates especially into my discussions about faith with my friends. We all tend to gravitate and hang out with people like us, people that we feel comfortable with. Our posture and stance again, both literal and physical, tends to be one of a more "chill" 'tude than anything else.

You know, I almost blew this question off as being too simplistic, until the idea of a stance as a position on an issue AND literal stance -- as in how we physically manifest our body language to one another -- crossed my mind. Guess this means I'm not too big of an idiot if I can get multiple meanings from one word.

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What is the role of a leader in the church? Do we pay pastors to be the answer-men and -women? What is the cost of such an approach? How might the way we train such leaders dictate the kind of leaders we produce?

...and here is where my academic snobbery will burn brightly through...

I. Hate. The. Way. Modern. Churches. Exist.

Maybe I've been in academia too long. Maybe I enjoy the way I debated/argued as an undergraduate and as a graduate student a little too much. But I personally can not STAND the way we exalt preachers and even lay leaders to be THE answer to-go-to people. Yes, there are some very easy faith-based answers that pastors SHOULD be able to rattle off with ease and are for Christians not open to debate (salvation; Christs death and resurrection; etc.). But we have placed a human in a state of authority as one point, one person, one lens to focus all answers through -- and you know what? THEY CAN BE WRONG. They can even be right on answers, but they give the correct answer through their point of view, and their answer is not exhaustive, complete, or potentially even reflective of MY point of view.

To be sure, thats why we have connection or small groups some would argue. That's why we do life together with other people.

Bull.

That's one of the reasons, yes, and potentially one of the healthiest reasons. We tend to feel safer in a smaller environment, where we feel we can let down our guard and be real. But what does that say about the man or woman up on the stage? Do we force them to be LESS real because they have to be all things to everyone, but not in a way that is reflective of what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 9:21-23 when he stated that he was all to all -- but his was for a case of inclusion, and less political correctedness.

We, the Western culture, are so accustomed to everyone -- from Ms. Lyons, or whoever your first-grade-teacher might've been, on to your high school teachers -- we place so many of these people in a position of yes/no, right/wrong, black/white authority and answer people that we fail miserably to understand and appreciate the complexities and beauty of discussion and hammering issues out rather than just accepting facts, and sadly more often than not, just sheer opinion from these in authority.

We pay leaders in a church to hold the course. To speak the truth in love. To teach. In a totally Socratic method. Or, to give out a major old-school shout-out to mah boyz in geekdom: GIGO.

You know what? I want someone one time to one to tell me they dont know the answer to something. Or at least not act like they know what they're talking about as they tell me that they don't know.

Leaders lead. They guide. To me, the best leaders point out the path, stay on the path with you as you walk down it, but they do not tell you what steps to take, how many steps to take, or even where the steps lie. You find your own path, with them as a guide. G-U-I-D-E. Faith is not paint-by-numbers, nor is it a one-size-fits-all idea or mentality. By perpetuating the idea of leaders who tell us what to do ("Just pray this simple prayer and God will give you the blessings of [fill in the blank]"), what to read, how to pray, when to pray, to adhere to bumper sticker theology (oh, I'll talk more about that later), and to follow them

They hurt the children: us. The children of God. The ones Jesus warned about damaging, or else they've have -- I believe it was a "millstone" placed around their neck and thrown out into the water or something like that. They're the ones who burn people out of faith, and from God. They're why people turn from the church, and run to people and/or ideologies what will embrace them, and accept their thoughts and questions.

...but you know what? Look at a question mark. It looks like this: ? Doesn't that resemble half of a heart to you? And, appropriately enough, don't our questions cut to the heart of who and what we really are?

[TO BE CONTINUED]

Friday, June 02, 2006

Let's try this little experiment...

Okay. So. One of my oldest friends -- like, we're talking we met back when I was in the ninth grade in 1985 -- has recently come back into my life, and it looks like the circles that our lives move in are starting to converge once more after having moved to the outer regions for...the better part of a decade ('sup, Pittman?).

He -- along with one other person whose opinion I trust (hi, Ryan) have both recommended a book to me. Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian. So, being the easily-swayed spineless jellyfish that I am (-ha-), I bought a copy.

Yeah. Three chapters into this thing, I can tell it's going to rock my world. In a good way.

The printing of the book I bought has this keen little Reader's Guide in the back. Now, ordinarily, what I'd do is I would write out the responses to these questions into one of the multiple journals in my house, where no one can find them and where one day my phantom children will discover them read them,. and then bbe in need of therapy. LOTS of therapy. But, before that, if I felt that I'd written anythign particulary note-worthy 9or just plain dumb), then I'd transpose the "Best Of" here -- sharing my filtered thoughts with all a'ya.

Not so much this time.

What I will do is type my reponses to each question separately, updating daily/almost-daily (due to travels in the sumer), with ym unfiltered, and oft-times rambling, responses.

Read on at your own peril. Here there be honesty...

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CHAPTER ONE:
1. Have you had relationships that felt safe enough to talk about your struggles and doubts regarding your faith? What made them so?


Not until recently -- most of my history with faith and belief has been with a lot of my friends closed off to the idea of doubt. I remember in my freshman year of college -- back in my "Dark Poet" days, where I wrote some great stuff, but MAN, was it morose -- I wrote the phrase "Doubt is a badge of victory for a saint" or something to that effect. Even then, I was struggling with problems of doubt, of questions -- and the judgmental looks and responses I got from so many people...looking back, I now understand that developmentally speaking (emotionally and cognitively), they weren't in the place I was in, where doubts were okay.

I think I've mastered most of my doubts, although they do creep back up every now and again. It's not just the bad days that make me doubt; I think that doubt and challenging oneself is a natural part of growth -- I used to get so pissed off at people I called sheep, the ones who'd blindly follow anything any one preacher said...until God reminded me that everyone needs guidance at points in their lives. That there may be circumstances in that person's life where they just NEED to sit, listen and be fed...and that with hope, they'll grow and walk on their own, not straying from the sight of the shepherd they have in their life. It might not be THAT shepherd they're listening to at the time -- they may grow beyond that and move on to another field.

But now -- now, I feel like I can question, but, sadly, I still have friends who might not understand the context f the question, who might say it's okay to question INSIDE of Christianity and the established rules (or non-rules), but to question outside of it? To say that all we need might not be answered or found wrapped up in a neat package, all the answers are to be discovered might not be in scripture, or the fact that life effing sucks sometimes and that there are times when we question and rage against the sky with no answers to come immediately?

There's the struggle -- the struggle that, as someone in a minor position of leadership in my local church -- what would the kids I mentor and interact with on an almost-daily- basis say if they knew that I was...human? That my feet of clay are more like feet of clay on rollerskates, that I flow freely from one extreme to the next in the realm of doubt, questions...I love each and every one of them more than I can express (why else the crap would I allow one of them to smear Cheetos in my hair?!?!?), but can we all accept the fact that we are ALL going to have doubts, fears...and can we all just accept each other -- TRULY accept each other -- as flawed? Faulty?

Why do we cheer when Christ called the Pharisees white-washed graves when all we do sometimes is put on white-washed masks of who we are with our family in the blood? Not so much so that we'll look perfect, but at least so that we'll look together? When did authentic spiritually go from carrying one another's burden's to a game of one-upmanship?

(to be continued...)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Days of Noah

I think that's going to be the title of my first novel. The novel I haven't written yet. The novel that'd read more like a collection of essays (ala Donald Miller) than a full one-thread-going-through-it novel.

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I am sick to death of seeing and hearing people who claim to be representing Christ on the telly talking about prosperity, wealth, blah blah blah. This is one of the reasons that we -- people who legitimately try to follow the teachings of Christ and adhere to that whole philosophy of loving one another...by which I mean everyone -- get such a bad wrap because we're lumped in with people who take passages of the Bible, twist them, and claim God will give you prosperity in your life if you just follow X Formula, buy X vitamins (I mean, WHAT THE CRAP?!?), or send in $49.95 for their series on how to pray, or somesuch nonsense.

I have no doubt that some of these people may have started off purely, but the dollars have corrupted them.

NO ONE should be allowed to Spam Christ.

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I'm in a bit of a foul mood. In case you couldn't tell. I'm wavering from crying (again, like I started to this morning), getting REALLY angry, and just giving up -- throwing my arms up in the air in complete and utter despair and surrender (but not the GOOD kinda surrender).

This stems back somewhat to the discussion I had yesterday, which can be summed up in the following two sentences (mind you, these came from a colleague of mine, someone whose opinion I respect and take at face value):
  • The restructuring and revising of departmental training that I have been working a YEAR on to make certain that the staff are given the opportunity to learn valuable and useful skills and not just attend a seminar on why so-and-so's department or program is cool and/or attend a training program that is evaluated on how much they liked the topic? Scrap it. Completely and utterly scrap everything, and go back to the way it was. ...not because it was a bad restructuring, and not because they NEED this style of training (as was confirmed), but because it doesn't give face time to people who think they and ONLY they can train the staff. Because -- and I quote -- the revisions didn't make them happy.
  • I was also told that the reason I am the lowest paid person in my classified position -- despite having more than five years of full-time work experience more than the other individuals in my classified position -- is (again, quoting) that people don't consider my position important. Oh, they like me, but my position's just not important, so they pay -- for example -- a guy who has a Bachelor's degree in Geology and only two (2) years of experience of working in Student Affairs $6k more a year than I get (with a Master's degree and now 10 years of full-time experience) because his position is thought of as more important. Thought of. NOT classified as or can be backed up with a statistical analysis from our comparative institutions. Thought of.

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I need a new life. I wonder what's available on eBay...?

Monday, May 08, 2006

To my two kid sisters...

Erin. Meg.

Two of the sweetest, most loving, most beautiful in spirit and in person people I have ever been blessed to know in this lifetime...

Both of my girls got baptised this past Sunday.

And yes, I cried. I started crying the second I saw the video start. I was crying because I was so proud of them, so happy for them, and so proud to see them take a stance for their faith, and re-commit their lives to Christ.

...and then they both mentioned me.

I kid you not -- it took every ounce of self-control I could muster after that. I was fighting crying like a baby. If I would have let myself, I don't think I could have stopped crying. I don't think I've wanted to just sob -- crying unshamedly before God, my friends, and all else in just abject total praise -- since...man. I don't think I've ever felt that way.

But -- Ryan would have shot me on site if I'd lost my composure. I had to go play nice eith the 3rd-6th graders, and I didn't need to look like I'd just been broken up with.

Yeah -- and Cotton? Chelsea? You guys all hugging afterwards? That almost brought the tears back to me.

How is it that I -- who have no biological ties to any of these people -- can feel like my heart is about to explode hen I see them, and see how strong they all are? And how proud and honored I am to have them as my friends, to know them, and to be in their lives.

I love each and every one of you.

-- all four of you who'll actually read this

With one breath...with one note...you will know...

There's something about God and synchronicity that always makes me smile a little. From a conversation on Friday night (spurred on, by all things, an episode of Sex and the City), to the message I heard at church on Sunday morning, I love how God can and does find the most unique ways to let me know that He hears me.

This past Sunday, I was out walking my dogs, when -- out of the blue -- some thoughts on God, and the way we try and "capture" Him and how He is came flooding into my brain. God does that sometimes -- He'll allow a thought (or three) so sit in me until -- BOOM! -- suddenly, insight hits me square between the valves of my heart. So, once I got back inside, I grabbed a pen, trying to remember what all I was talking about and praying aloud (and, in the process, making my neighbors think Im just a little wackier than they had already surmised). Written below is what I scribbled down on a notepad, trying to re-capture all the thoughts that I'd been given:

  • We try to craft God in our own image, not the other way around (the Bible does state we were made in His image). Our Western society/culture has it the worst: we craft our prayers to what God "wants" to hear, or how we think we "should" pray -- almost to manipulate or curry favor with God. Like He wouldn't be smart enough to see through our feeble attempts, whether they're intentional or not -- whether they're crafted that way because of the upbringing we may have had in church. Like He didn't already know what we were going to say.
  • By crafting God in our own image -- by focusing our prayers on what we see/feel/want -- we conceivably limit Him. A spiritual being, sung to daily as "indescribable" -- we try to make Him into our own image (idolatry, maybe?), so we feel more comfortable with Him. So we can wrap our perception of truth, of our changing, transmutable minds and bodies onto a constant that never changes.
  • We're not trying to fit a square peg into a round hole: we're trying it fit a square peg into a cloud. ...and watch the square peg (what we ask for) drop to the ground. Watch our life -- watch our desires -- watch the way we want to run our lives -- watch it all drop and lose out against what he wants.

Matthew 6:33 -- Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (THE MESSAGE)


So, after I write all this stuff down, I crack open this book that Ive been reading: Surprise Me: A 30-Day Faith Experiment by Terry Esau. And -- lo and behind -- what was today's little journal entry about?

Surprise Me could have that same problem [of people thinking God wants to make "us" flourish]. And it probably will. Some of us will look only for the sparkly toy surprises from the vending machine, the "good" surprises like the little gold rings and the rubber action figures. When a big dollop of "here's-what-I-see-in-you" come rumbling down the chute, well go, "God, how come you're not there answering my prayers? How come you're not sending any surprises my way?" All the while God is going, "Duh. I just sent a mirror down -- did you look in it?"

So that worries me a bit. Another thing that has me a bit concerned is that some of us will attribute everything that happens as an act of God. You know what I'm talking about, right? Some of us will wake up in the morning and pray, "Surprise me, God." And then we'll go get a primo parking spot at the mall and the cell phone kiosk will have a special on the very camera phone we were thinking about buying... ... And then we'll get together with some friends and in a religious voice that isnt our normal speaking voice well say, "Praise God -- He is soooo good to me," and we'll list the trivial train of blessings. One of our friends who is trying to figure out this whole God/Jesus/faith thing will hear this litany of toy surprises and wonder why God just let her brother die of cancer. After all, she'd been praying for him as best she knew how for the past two years. Was God too busy helping someone get a good parking space? Is that how God works?

Surprise Me, the experiment, could do a lot of damage if we bastardize it; if we make it about us and what we want. ...

Youre probably thinking right now, "Okay, Esau, well then how are we supposed to know if anything that ever happens to us is actually from God? Whats from Him and what isn't?"

You might not like this answer, but the truth is I don't know. ...

How could I know? How can we ever know, without a sliver of doubt, that whatever happened to us was a God thing? Unless He slaps a Post-It Note on it, that says, "This one's from me, you dimwit -- I did it." But, the flip side to that is, just as we can't prove something is from God, we also can't say that it isn't. We cant rule out His involvement.

So what do I say to the woman whose brother just died of cancer when she has been praying for him for two years? I dont know. I wish I could explain that, but I can't. Thats a pretty awful surprise. Do I shoot out some clich├ęd line about how all things work together for good? Probably not. Do I put my arm around her and say, "I'm really sorry about your brother he was a good guy"? Yeah.

That's a good start.

Other than that, I don't know.

So as you can tell, I've been hit between the eyes about this. See -- this was all part of a struggle I've been having when I pray. I feel like...I don't know. I've settled into a comfortable routine. A pattern. And how often have I been asking for God to work in or through a circumstance, and not through me. To take me out of a situation, disregarding the spiritual aspects.


How many times have I prayed, not seeking first the Kingdom, but seeking what my perception of the Kingdom should be.

There are some really crummy situations in my life right now. Potentially life altering, potentially life breaking. (And no, Ashley and I have not broken up. Shush). Other things -- parts of my past which won't die, which I re-live over and over and over again. For FOREVER, I've been praying that God take me out of these situations, take me out of the pain, of the hurt.

Not that God wants to see me suffer, but never not once, have I prayed to see what He's trying to show me in the situation. I've been too focused on the negative here-and-now to see what the future could hold. To see where I could be led. To see something better.

Methinks I need to start revisiting that verse above, and stop thinking of myself as a latter-day Job.

The story of the proposal...


[Posted by popular demand...]

Saturday afternoon, April 1, 2006.

Ashley and I had gone to the gym that morning, and I think I needed the workout more to get my nerves to settle down and take out some of the anxiety than anything else. Muscle toning be d*mn*d -- I needed to run to focus, and relax a little bit.

So, following the burning of an insane amount of calories, we went to our respective homes to shower, dress, and get ready for a retirement party that night. Jim Day, the Executive Director of Housing here at UGA was retiring after 16 years at UGA (and 35 years in the field of residence life), and he was having a HUGE blow-out at his house that night.

I showed up at Ashley's apartment around 3:00, and we had four hours to spend before the party. I told her that since it was such a beautiful day, why don't we take a walk around campus to just bask in the sun, the light breeze, and the fact that it wasn't crazily humid and we could move around outside without passing out from a heat stroke.

So, we walked from the front door of her building to my car, were I picked up a pair of hiking boots, tied their shoelaces together, and tossed them over my shoulder. Of course, Ash was a little confused about why I had brought the boots in the first place (although, this is me we're talking about here, and she should be accustomed to the odd and random by this point), and asked me if she needed to go back in and change shoes, because if I had hiking boots...I told her -- and I quote -- "I'm a teacher. I work in student development. I'm involved in a youth group. I have an object lesson planned. Gimme some leeway here." So, we struck off on our stroll. I knew where we were walking to, but she had no clue.

Flashback to September of 2004 -- we had met only a few months earlier, and one night she asked me to come to her apartment. Once I got there, she met me at the door and told me to turn around, that we were going somewhere. We walked from her apartment to the on-campus coffee shop (Jittery Joe's) over by O-House, grabbed a couple of cups of java, and walked to North Campus (Herty Field) to where this big fountain is located. There, we sat out under the stars on a bench by the fountain for a few hours...talking about life, our dreams, our fears, our lives, sitting really close because it was a bit chilly, and just...basking in each other.

We walked back to this fountain on Saturday. "Our" fountain -- despite the plethora of undergrads playing Frisbee around it when we got there. We sat down on a bench by the fountain and started picking up our conversation from the walk and from the night before -- stuff about life, the future and such (however, we did not sit on the bench we'd sat on that first night; the wind was blowing the spray of the fountain directly onto that bench, and I was already nervous and sweating enough -- I did NOT need any more water).

Let me just point this out -- at this time, she had no idea where all this was leading. She just thought it was a nice day, a nice walk, and a nice talk. We were just being all "couple-y." So, I ask her, "I'll bet you're curious why I have these boots..."

[Now, keep in mind that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that right about this point in the conversation...I started rambling. I was scattered in my thoughts. The majority of what I said was probably pretty darn jumbled and non-sequitur. But -- as she's confirmed -- below is the heart of the speech I made.]

I told her that I didn't know if she remembered or not, but she'd bought these boots for me. We'd gone to REI one weekend during their "Second-Hand Sale," and she found these really cool boots that were normally, like, almost $200 or something that someone had bought, worn, didn't like, and brought them back because they squeaked or something. But, after I'd passed them by on the sale table myself, she found them, saw that they were in good condition, and "made me" try them on to see if they fit.

I told her that that one gesture was sort of indicative of us, of our relationship -- that here I was, someone that people had passed by a lot in life, because they saw the scuffs, the scratches and the "used" or "defective" labels that others had put on me. But she looked past all that and saw something of great value. She saw someone that had a lot of potential, a lot of miles left on the tread, and so what if someone else had placed their label on me; she wasn't going to go by what someone else said -- she wanted to see if I fit and see if I could handle this journey.

I told her that -- as she knows I normally do -- I saw...see...life through metaphors. Through allegories. And that since the first day she had bought me these boots that I was going to use them for something special. That they'd be used for something cool, because they meant a great, great deal to me.

And that, you know, I'd never paid her back for those shoes, and since I'd had them for almost a year now, maybe it was time that I did so.

At this point, I removed the little wooden box that I'd placed up in the toe area of one of the boots. Ashley, bless her naive heart, asked me what the box was for.

I told her, "Hold on; I have to do this the right way." I brushed some of the gravel away from the front of the bench and got down on my knee.

Ashley: "Wait. What are you doing?"

I then opened the box and took the ring out.

Ashley: (starts crying; eyes huge) "No. You're not serious. You can't be serious."

Me: "Let's do this. Let's make the dream a reality. We've talked about our future together, joked about or future...but I want to stop talking. Let's go on the journey together.

"Ashley, will you marry me?"

...pause...

Me: "I don't care if you say 'yes' or 'no,' but could you please just respond before I pass out or throw up?"

And she starts laughing. And then she says yes.

******

Now, keep in mind that this was April Fool's Day. Yes, I know that many people would find that cruel and unusual, but -- this is ME we're talking about. If you know me, you have to admit that there is a certain amount of Sonny-ness to our getting engaged on April Fool's Day. Ya gotta admit -- I don't think it'll be a date I can forget all that easily.

But, the date has a little bit of symbolism and meaning to it as well. It was my maternal grandmother's birthday, and since she died years ago and can't be at the wedding, I wanted her included in some small way.

Also, Ashley's grandmother is dying, and she probably won't live long enough to attend the wedding. I wanted her to know that Ashley was getting married, and that her granddaughter was going to be cared for and loved.

******

I didn't do the old school "call her father to ask permission" shtick -- I called her mom instead. Ashley's parents divorced when she was younger, and her mom raised her as a single parent. They have this insanely strong bond, and there was no way that I was going to do this without her blessing.

Her mom and I have a good relationship, and she told me that it meant a great deal to her that I'd ask her blessing before I asked Ashley to marry me.

******

So. I'm engaged. Yeah. Whod'a'thunk it?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I'll meet you there someday...

Man. What awesome springtime weather we're having. Wet, cold, windy Springtime weather. I'm not sure if March has come in like a lion or a lamb, but regardless, it left the fridge door open, and now it's freakin' freezing. I'm just glad I hadn't put up the box of sweaters (TM) that I had packed in my bedroom just quite yet.

This week's been interesting so far -- not only have all the tanned, rested and relaxed undergrads returned to the nest (bringing with them their tanned, rested and relaxed attitudes -- buncha friggin'...), but Friday, I found out my advisor from grad school had finally lost his battle with cancer and died in his sleep.

I think I was more or less...numb...Friday, and I (mercifully) was able to not dwell on it too much this past weekend.

...then came the funeral yesterday. I'm not even sure if I'm able to speak, type or process it fully yet.

Ed was Jewish, which meant the service was a beautiful, beautiful celebration of his life. As the Rabbi was performing the service, I actually realized that I knew more about the Jewish faith than I realized. The point that totally twisted a knife in my heart was when his younger daughter, Claire, read a letter to him. A good-bye letter she wrote for him.

Ed's diagnosis with cancer came early enough that his family was able to process this with a good amount of lead-in time. I mean, his daughters even put on a fashion show for him the week before he passed away, so that he could select what they should wear to his funeral, so that they knew he'd approve of and like their clothes.

When we came to the registry book, there was a photo of Ed with Hannah and Claire (his kids), that took me by surprise. I stared at the picture for a good 30 seconds, trying to figure out when it was taken. At first, I thought it was an older picture of him, because he had a full beard -- but then I saw the girls, and I realized that this picture had to have been taken in the last month or so, because of how old they were in the photo. As I started at the photo, I had three thoughts that ran through my head, all within about the span of two seconds:

"Man, he looks really thin." Ed was never a petite man, and the chemo just...gave him a physique that changed his overall look.

"He looks good with a beard."
and "God, I wish that I could have told him how good he looks with a beard."

Amazing what thoughts will run through one's head -- especially when you realize that you can never say them to the person you're thinking about.

There are professors, and then there are people like Ed, who went the quantum leap past educator to friend. I was at least able to send him one last insanely sarcastic (yet filled with love) email message before he died. I think he knew how much he meant to me, but...for those of you in grad school: think for a minute about what it would be like losing your advisor. Think about the years of experience, mentoring and genius given by this person. Think about how annoyed and frustrated you can get at them -- and then think about not having them.

Death tends to make me wax poetic, and get all openly emotional.

So -- enjoy the remainder of your week Sleep late one day. Go watch an old black-and-white film. Eat chocolate when you're in class or at work.

And go hug someone. Tightly.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Everybody in the audience appreciates the choir

So -- how was the concert, you ask...

The crowd was much larger -- over fifty in number, not in median age nor waistline size -- than I would have expected. Oh, to be sure, the vast majority of us there were the esoteric and old Christian music junkies (if you were raised on Passion music, please stop reading now; you wouldn't understand us, and we don't quite get you either). (-- just kidding.) (Maybe.)

MUSICALLY: The set was great (the jam section on "Circle Slide" was...yeah. Wow), and the majority of the tunes played came off of the Chase the Kangaroo, Wide-Eyed Wonder, Circle Slide and O How The Mighty Have Fallen discs. However, the set felt...short (clocking in at about an hour in length). I mean, they could've played their entire repertoire and it still would have seemed short, but after a few of us rushed the stage to see the set list -- well, when we saw what they were going to play compared to what they actually played, we wanted a second concert ("God of Wonders," "Beautiful Scandalous Night," "Wilderness" and "Chase the Kangaroo" were among the tunes listed to be performed but not played).

When the crowd started shouting out requests -- "Triangle" and my own requested "Everybody in the Band" among the two that caused the most laughter -- Derri and Steve, thankfully, ignored us and kept playing.

Steve Hindalong made the most...Interesting...faces while playing. Derri jammed out on guitar like he was 20, and his voice shows NO signs of aging or slowing down at all. Dan Michaels -- the undisputed most under-appreciated member of the band -- was spot-on in his performance. Marc Byrd's backup guitar supplemented their sound perfectly. Matt Slocum on bass was both a surprise and a treat; I think it's a high compliment to him that he sounded like he'd been playing with them since day one.

A good number of people who had seen them multiple times before said that this particular concert was the best sounding one they'd ever heard the guys perform. It was stylistically and musically about as perfect as we'll get on this side of forever.

Dan patted me on the shoulder as they walked off stage. Derri hugged me after the concert (once I assured him I wasn't a stalker). THAT made my night. ...and yeah, once we got outside, I danced around my car. It was a very Dead Poets kinda moment.

No joke; my face was hurting on Saturday from the big grin I had plastered on me during the whole set. There was one moment even before the guys took the stage that took me by surprise -- I was sitting there, in my chair (second row, middle section, aisle seat on the left ) and I thought I was going to cry. Tears of joy. Just...anticipatiaion caught up in wish fulfillment.

There's something wonderful about love. Indeed.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Shovel Go Deep...

If you've known me for a year, a month or even a few decades (hi, Wooley), you know...you KNOW that there's been one band I've never seen in concert that I would love to see.

One band that shaped a lot of my musical tastes (so yeah, you can blame them) and helped to shape me spiritually...one band that's even inspired the name of my blog. :)

-- and they're coming to Athens. Friday, March 10.

I'm not kidding when I say that this will be the last concert I "need" to see in my life. Other bands/singers that've been THE ones that I had to see -- Over the Rhine; U2; Steve Taylor; Chagall Guevara; the violet burning; Vigilantes of Love -- been there, done that, checked that box, got the bootleg recording of the gig and am moving on.

the choir. Derri Daugherty & Steve Hindalong (FYI: Steve co-authored "God of Wonders" with another choir bandmate).

Check out www.thechoir.net for downloads, etc.

Venue Name: Calvary AthensVenue Address: 120 Commerce Blvd, 30622Website: http://www.calvaryathens.comTickets: $10 adv / $12 doorShowtime: 7:30pm doors, 8pm showAdvance Tickets: Available at The Carpenter's Shop or by calling 706-543-0901
Now. If someone could just get Leslie/Sam Phillips here. I'd be musically set for the rest of my life. :)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Clouds. Rain. Fire.

...did anyone actually SEE the sky this morning?

Maybe it's the fact that I got about three hours of sleep last night (I was at Compass until a little after midnight planing and plotting out the next series with the Creative Team). Maybe it's just that God knows how much I love seeing Him manifest Himself in nature. Maybe it's just that I needed something to make me smile this morning.

Regardless of the reason -- the sky this morning looked like it was a wave. A wave of clouds. As if God had sent a ripple through the atmosphere.

You know how when you see a wave in a pool, or an ocean, and there is the crest of the wave, followed by the ripples of water that trail after it? That is exactly what the sky looked like this morning -- as if God's hand had literally just brushed against the crown of the earth, causing the clouds to ripple, showing the brightest, bluest sky underneath.

I froze, standing perfectly and completely still when I saw what was above me.

It was one of those God moments, the ones where everything else -- the sleep deprivation, the exhaustion, the struggles you're going through -- all of it is just gone, in the blink of an eye. Where you can FEEL the warmth of God's smile on your life. Where in the midst of chaos, headaches and heartaches -- there comes peace. Beauty, peace, and a moment of "Don't worry -- I'll take care of you."

It was so powerful that as soon as I got back inside, I had to pray. I had to literally fall down on my knees and just say thanks. To say thanks for the blessings in the midst of the struggles, both personally and financially. To say thanks for the blessings in my life that lead me to a better, deeper and stronger understanding of who God is and who I am -- and who I'm supposed to be.

To say thanks for just giving me life.

Clouds. Who'd'a thunk wisps...vapors...could inspire and move you so much?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Cue the music...

"Extraordinary Excellence."

This was the topic of the talk that Jim gave this past week at my church here in Athens. Excellence. Extraordinary excellence. How we are to -- naturally -- give our best, our all to God, and for Him and His work here on earth.

JIm gave the illustration of how he wanted to come out on stage and play drums -- but we wouldn't let him. How we knew that even though he had the passion to do so, the drive to want to...he wasn't gifetd in that area. And how many times do we -- or, for me, did we, growing up in a traditional church -- allow people to sing, to teach, to lead when they're just not that good, but we feel that God can use them and honor their attempt. That we can just let the Spirit move and that if we do something with half the ability, God will take care of the rest.

-- well, yeah. He does work miracles and all that jazz, and I would NEVER tell someone that they weren't going to be honored by God for their efforts. Amd yes, I'm torn, because I know that Gd expects us to give our best, and sometimes our personal best might not measure up to the best-best that there is (say, comparing my guitar skills to Phil Keaggy for instance), but still...God can honor and does us it.

It's the American Idol theory: We feel we're just that good. But in reality, when you loook at getting the best, we might not measure up.

So, clearly, this has led to hours and days of self-doubt, self-reflection, and worry in me: do I measure up? Do I have what it takes? Am I good enough?

Rob Bell has written an incredible book called Vevet Elvis, and in it, he talks about God's ability to call -- and use -- the not-quite-good-enoughs. That gives me hope that maybe I can be used.

-- I'm just rambling now. I need to take a break...

Friday, January 20, 2006

Nike's got nothing on this...

So, yeah. MY heart got pierced thie morning...

One of the 657 small groups I am involved in is supposed to be reading the book of Colossians for study. I, being the bright and involved individual I am, clearly did not read said book this morning. Instead, I grabbed my copy of Seizing Your Divine Moment, a little tome by one Erwin Ralphael McManus.

In the few pages I managed to read while gulping down cup #5 of coffee this morning (I had insomnia lat night and I woke up at 3:00 am. Shush. I'm allowed to drink coffee like a madman), I came across this little tidbit:

"Our action invokes God's activity. It is as if God is waiting for someone to trust Him enough to act on His Word. There is so much that God wants to do that can be seen only after we begin to do it. ...we are commanded to do whatever as long as it reflects the heart and character of God. ... Think any God thoughts you want; do any God deeds you desire to do. Do it boldly, whatever the cost. Circumstances cannot rob you of the joy of life." (emphasis mine)

Methinks there might just be some life changes around yon corner for li'l Sonny...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New year, new post, same receeding hairline...

In honor of Lara's birthday, here's the first update I've done in quite some time (shut up). It's yet another email that I've cut-and-pasted because...well...this one was just good.

I can have a deep thought every once in a while.

******

Now that I can chime in (note to all -- do NOT eat at the Wendy's on Alps Road, unless you enjoy food poisoning...and trust me, I know this from first-hand experience)...

Like Bryan initially said, a number of us refugees from growing up in a youth group...we come from a background of nigh-fear over not reading the Bible/having a "quiet time" every morning/night. For me, at least, it was hammered to me that it was a DUTY, much like if I was in the military. Or if I was working an assembly line: read+pray=God gives you His blessing for the day; no read+no pray = God punishes you/you have a crappy day.

We constantly refer to the Bible as a love letter from God, yet -- again, looking at the legalistic standpoint a good many of our family choose -- how many of us TREAT it as a love letter? I'm just a big enough of a dork to have saved all the notes that mean something to me that have been written me (shut up, the lot of you; I'm a romantic at heart), and I treasure those things. I enjoy re-reading them again and again -- not because I gain a lot of deep insight about my relationships from them, but they make my heart smile.

Dude, I not only write in my Bible, I treat it a little bit like a field guide. -- I have since given up on the "Instruction Manual for Life" analogy a lot of people use, because (to paraphrase Rob Bell), how many of us ever actually READ an instruction manual, or if we do, don't we pull it out only once we break or can't get something to work properly?

God is not a genie, and the Bible is not a bottle. -- true, there's that whole "craving as a newborn craves milk" analogy, but that's a different type of bottle. :)

Now -- the challenge (I have found for me) is getting that balance between what I need to to, why I need to do it, and how do I do it:

WHAT: I need to read the Bible. Plain and simple. If I wasn't supposed to read it, then God would not have made sure to preserve these writings for so long. They're here for a reason (just like I am, whatever the dickens that might be).

WHY: (a) I'm commanded to; (b) I do crave it; and (c) there are some pretty cool -- and some pretty confusing/frustrating parts (and the inner geek in me salivates over the challenge to find out what they mean).

HOW: ...and here's where your mileage may vary: I come at it from a two-pronged approach. I read on my own, and I discuss it. I've found that the Bible was not meant to be experienced as a solitary book. It's interactive -- it's a narrative that cries out for discussion. Not just from the perspective of one voice (hi, Jim), but from many. Christ even had a gaggle of a dozen (plus) people he hung out with. Paul kept referring to others in his letters. I don't know from first-hand knowledge, but I'll bet that in Judea, etc., these Jewish (and subsequent Gentile) boys and girls discussed the Torah as much -- if not more -- than anything else. I mean, they didn't have the upcoming American Idol try-outs to talk about, so...

Translations, paraphrases, study guides -- there are as many out there that make less sense than reading the 1611 printing of the King James Version as there are ones that you just read and think "wow." Me? I tend to skew towards the NIV (old habits die hard), with a smattering of THE MESSAGE thrown in for good measure (and to make me look at those words from a different perspective). I also journal like a man possessed, so one day when I kick off, someone will probably find my writings, publish them, and I'll be seen as some reclusive genius.

The Bible, like life -- like our spiritual walk -- is not meant to be experienced alone all the time. ...and that's part of the "failing"/missed opportunity that I (and probably Bryan and the rest of us church-grown-ones) grew up with: we had a study time, and we talked about what the Bible SAID, but not about what it said about us at that time, in that place, in our lives.

A lot of what you've asked, like you stated, will come in the form of an answer in due time. Have FUN on the journey, and please...open up more email discussion like this so we can jam up people's Inboxes and have them growl about the length of these messages until they start reading them and see how much fun it is to discuss these things. :)

Peace,
-Sonny
(just don't ask for the ratio of how many times I've read the Bible through to the number of times I've read Tolkien's works cover to cover...it will only embarrass us both)