Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just some thoughts to close the month out

If I had to venture a guess, I’d say the last time I got really excited about my birthday, it would have involved a roller-stating rink, the possibility of getting a Landspeeder, and maybe a caramel cake from my grandmother. This means that the last time I had a birthday of sharp-intake-of-breath magnitude would have occurred sometime in the late 1970s/early 1980s. To be sure, there have been some good ones after that, some that the less said about the better, and some that have just been “meh;” however, the last few years’ worth of annual demarcation of my getting closer to retirement age have been absolutely amazing thanks in no small part to Ashley and her attempts to one-up the surprise quotient of each birthday.

I hope that I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings when I say that I don’t even remember what happened last year, since my birthday fell just nine days after my father passed away. Due in part to the close proximity of this juxtaposition of life and death and how it could easily cast a shadow over every subsequent year – also due in part to the fact that we’re stuck in Miami for the duration of the holiday season thanks to Ashley being on duty – we decided this year to take my birthday on the road and revisit some old stomping grounds we’ve been meaning to get back to. Athens, GA to be specific. The place where we met, the place that for some reason feels like home to us, and the place we pine for on a weekly basis, if for nothing more than the food (the Grit and Big City Bread), the coffee (Jittery Joe’s), and other bonus features (Terrapin).

…okay, really, we just decided to take some time to go visit Ashley’s mom, dad and sisters in Columbus, GA, and we thought what the heck – if we have to fly in to Atlanta, let’s take an extra day to go to Athens. The timing of the visit happened to coincide with my birthday.

Although we didn’t get the opportunity to see everyone we wanted to see or to go everywhere we wanted to go, there were two distinct sets of people that – well, one I felt I had to see, and one that I needed to see. One for connection, the other for a closure of sorts.

While there are a number of people who I want to see Kai and know how awesome he is (that number would be “Earth, Population of”), there are just a handful of people I feel I want HIM to know, for him to be held by because it would mean the world to me, and to be a part of his life. One such person was the first person we saw once we arrived in Athens. Ten (?!?!) years ago when I started graduate school at Mississippi State University, there was a husband and wife duo who, through their own unique ways, each gave me a feeling of being part of a family when I was without one. Ed and I clicked and connected on so many levels (all things Trek; the superiority of Macs; scoffing at people who ate Chinese food with forks and not chopsticks; etc.) it was as if I had found my elder kindred nerd that it made our professional similarities almost superfluous. Ed, who passed away a few years back, probably would have gotten Kai his first Starfleet onesie. Merrily was and remains one of the few individuals in my life who if I ever heard say “I’m disappointed in you,” it would utterly crush my soul. She also is one of a handful of intellectuals who inspires me to be better; she retains a watermark of professionalism that while not readily attainable for all is at least partially accessible due to her always holding a helping hand out for others to reach for and grab. The love I have for these two people and their awesome, awesome daughters can’t be measured and is not diminished through distance. Although he wasn’t physically there to be able to see Merrily hold Kai for the first time, I have faith that Ed was looking on, smiling right along with my dad. When she held him, it was as if the present (me) was seeing my past cradling my future. And it was beautiful (and tear inducing). Through stories (and hopefully maybe personal interaction), Kai’s going to know them as more like family than just “Daddy’s friends.”

The last Sunday that I was in Athens before Ashley and I moved to Miami was a blur; that was what made the visiting of the 706 later this night that much more poignant. My final Sunday at Compass Church was coupled with emotional turbulence over the fact that that the kids I had worked with for three years in the youth group were taking off that afternoon for summer camp – the same summer camp I had gone to every year SINCE the start of the 706 and we had seen grown exponentially in attendance – and that by the time they got back from camp on Friday, I’d be gone. This particular Sunday would be THE last time I’d see many of them until who knew when. I did make myself a silent promise that I’d return one day; more than anything else, I wanted to see the core group we took to the first FISH Camp (show of hands: who still has their stone?) again before they graduated from high school. Erin? Cotton? Meagan? To let a trip to Athens occur and NOT see them would have been a wasted trip on SO many levels. (It would have only been better had we been able to play Ultimate Frisbee one last time.) And since come May they’ll all be ready for college the following Fall…well. It was time to come back to see them.

The last person I hugged the final Sunday I was at Compass was Andy. Twice. As I was walking out the door. We both had tears in our eyes, and it was almost not what I would have expected from either of us. Yes, Andy and I did have a bond (oh, the hours upon hours we spent as the only two “adults” in KidMo) and we’d had a few deep-ish talks, but I think that morning we were both mourning the loss of what could have been, of how we could have grown the budding relationship between us if only my useless self hadn’t been moving to the literal end of the country. But I well, well remember his was the last shoulder I cried on before I left for Florida.

I felt a twinge of symbolism when I heard he was going to be speaking to the 706 that night. The last person I touched (or, for the theological amongst you, “laid my hands upon”) was taking up the cloak I’d left in Compass and was speaking with the same almost-shaky voice while on the stage, and with a mixture of humor and passion that seemed to capture the crowd. I was filled with this sense of pride and excitement to see how much Andy had grown in the years since we last were together, and I can’t wait to see where his journey takes him as he finds his own voice and path.

This time out, when I left Compass on Wednesday night, the last person I hugged was Carly. Carly, whose letter to me stays in a frame on my desk (when I have a desk, that is). Carly, who has grown up both vertically and emotionally, developing into an amazing young woman in her own right. I have nothing but faith in and assurance of her future. I don’t think there was anything particularly deep or meaningful in the final hug between us – it was more, for me, as a passage on some levels; as a closing of one chapter, a turning of a page, and wondering what comes next.

Now, I’ll be honest: I’ve written before about some of my feelings of inadequacy. Part of this does stem from some of my time at Compass, as well as some incidents afterwards. Mark Heard once wrote (okay: sang) “I’ve been confounded by the whirlwind of what-ifs and dreams.” And on more than one occasion I’ve been given over to thoughts of what might have happened, of what might have been, had we stayed in Athens. I’ve had to deal with feelings of resentment, often over leaving friends, family, and those who blur that line.

However, as a dear friend has continually gently reminded me, I am now where I am supposed to be for this season, and there is a reason for it. Logically, then, I can extrapolate that I guess the same hold true for where all I have been – that there were no wasted moments; that there have been no wasted experiences, no wasted time spent. Everything matters. All the lives that I have intersected and crossed, and the love that we’ve shared – in a very George Bailey understanding of life, to take myself out of those moments might have caused a completely different outcome for both myself and the other parties.

It’s kind of fitting, at this time of year, to remember that I really do have a wonderful life.

And that the best birthday gift I could have gotten this year was in seeing old friends, sharing hugs with loved ones, and being able to see my mom and sister play with and hang out with Kai.

Friday, November 06, 2009

I Painted My Name

So, this Sunday marks one year since my father passed away. Suffice it to say that this week has been (and undoubtedly will continue to be) emotional, taxing, and not really restful.

But yesterday, something interesting happened - something which was actually kinda sweet, kinda cute, and very much a God moment (if, in fact, God uses seven month old babies in any way).

Yesterday morning, while I was rocking Kai to sleep, I was just struck by this wave of - well, pain. Sorrow. Sadness. I have no idea what; I think I was thinking about the trips we used to take to Memphis around the holidays or about my upcoming birthday - but whatever the memory of my dad was, something just...set me off, and I started crying.

Now, prior to this, Kai had never seen me cry. I'm not going to lie and say that I've never cried while holding him before; far from it - there have been times when I will just look at him, and feel a deep, bittersweet sadness over memories of my dad, thinking about him not being able to see or hold Kai...and I just break down. (I think I'll probably finally stop crying sometime around 2076.) But mercifully - he's slept through the other times I've cried. This morning was a little different. He woke up, and stared at me wide-eyed.

And then? He. Totally. Freaked. Out.

Maybe it was the "My daddy is crying?!?" sound/sight of tears that flipped his lid, or he thought "Holy *** - if DADDY is crying, there must be something REALLY scary in the room!!" Either way, I learned to laugh through my tears- for once NOT in an effort to lie to other people or to myself that everything was alright, but to reassure Kai that daddy was okay.

And what did Kai do?

He offered his pacifier to me.

He took it out of his mouth, said "da da," and offered his pacifier to me. Tried to put it IN my mouth, truth be told. Maybe he thought I needed it more than he did to - you know - get pacified.

This of course made me actually LAUGH laugh, not the fake "it's okay" laugh I had been trying earlier.

Then he and I went to get some coffee together.

I see myself listening to a LOT of Over the Rhine for the next few days...


Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Prodigal Sonny

Time for a confession: I suffer from jealousy.

Not too long ago, I sent an email to a friend. In this message, I told him that I felt a lot like Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams where at the end of the movie, after having done all that was asked of him, he just got frustrated and wanted to know what was in it for him. He was tired of the ghosts living in his corn, getting to act out their fondest dreams and what they most longed for, finding a redemption of sorts for shattered dreams brought about by the choices they made in their lives, while he – Ray Kinsella/Kevin Costner – had taken the most roundabout and fundamentally bizarre journey of his life, at the risk of losing everything, to heed the nudge in his spirit of what he felt he HAD to do with his life.

I sent my friend this email at the time when he was off at a leadership conference, engaging with other individuals who serve in various leadership positions in their respective churches, and he was able to revel in learning how to grow, serve, do and be better at what he feels he has to do with his life – what his calling is. In the message I told him that I was frustrated (to be fair and honest, in my own mind, was inferring jealousy, which may not have been evident in the message I sent him). That I had (metaphorically speaking, of course) plowed down my cornfield, built a baseball field, and had spent all this time just watching others play in and on my field of dreams, and I wanted to know…what was in it for me. That I had done all that was asked of me, that I had allowed myself to be shaped by this calling, and to let myself grow organically into who I am becoming. That I had watched as others, time and again, who were just like me, had been called forward, and like the fat kid in elementary school, I felt like I was always passed over. When was it going to be my turn at bat? When do I get to join in the game, and play – do – what I felt it was/is my life’s calling, ambition, dream and hope?

In the midst of this Sonny-rant moment, I also had to stop and own up to another feeling in my heart: a feeling of injustice, something that runs a little deeper than something like a three-year-old pouting “it’s not fair,” but also does seem a little – well, childish, depending on one’s point of view.

For a while now, I’ve been debating the whole “what do I want to do/be when I grow up” thing. As fulfilling as staying at home with Kai has been, I don’t think I could do this for the rest of my life. Given the massive emotional turbulence of the last year, I needed a sabbatical, an (ironically named in this instance) Year of Jubilee, where I got to stop and let the emotions and changes of this past year catch up with me to where I can be the best dad/husband that I can be.

My friend, like many others in my life, will tell me both to my face and to my email address, that it is all but BLINDINGLY obvious that there is a definitive calling on my life to work in ministry. That my heart, my ability to be real with people, and my journey has all been for this purpose. “Great,” says I. “So – when exactly is that going to happen?”

One of the more annoying examples of my frustration comes in the fact that for many other people – their career/calling is somewhat much more simple in comparison: they know what they want to do, and there is a clear path to it. For me, while I appreciate the support of the people who have and continue to extol this whole “Dude, God has something great in store for you” mindset – I would really, really, really appreciate it if just once, someone could or would tell me WHAT the thing is that I am supposed to do, and point me on the right path. Help me make that first step. Point out to me that which I am apparently too close to to be able to see objectively.

I once told this friend of mine that I felt like one of the biggest differences between us was in terms of our “pedigrees.” He – along with many others I could mention – took the more accepted path, the “right” path: go to seminary after you graduate with your Bachelor’s degree.

His pedigree (his degrees and formal training) shows that he is qualified and eligible to be in this dog show; they show that he has the right to be here. Me? Comparatively, I’m a mutt: I have a mixed background (read: checkered), and my pedigree is questionable at best, disqualifiable at worst. People can see where his pedigree comes from; they can say “What a beautiful [fill in the blank with dog breed].” People just look at me, remark I’m cute, can tell I’m a good dog, but because no one can readily and easily see where my roots trace back to – which means, in the eyes of some, I’m a good dog, but simply not good enough.

There will always be those who prefer full-breed dogs, and there will be those who like mutts. I’ve always been a mutt lover – even before I knew that I was one. Those of us whose lineage is disputed. Those of us with muddy paws, matted fur, and who aren’t groomed to perfection. Mark Heard said it best when he called us the orphans of God.

It’s one of the reasons that I relate to both characters in the parable of the prodigal son. It would be way too easy (and way too clich├ęd) for me to simply say that I have played the part of the prodigal: I cashed in my heritage (turned my back on all things spiritual), went out and engaged in (being kind here) “questionable activities,” and then turned back to my Father, who took me back with open arms.

Of course, without all the scars, I wouldn’t be who I am. My story wouldn’t be MY story. I wouldn’t be the ME that I am today. I recently expressed (briefly) some of my frustrations with a friend of mine who I recently reconnected with after 20 years (yes, it turns out going to my high school reunion WAS good for something). She reminded me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing what I am exactly supposed to be doing. I’ve had many people tell me that they connect with me because of my honesty – I guess, in many ways I act as a minister or as a Christian they’ve never encountered before. I try to be real, I try to be me, and I try to simply be genuine and loving in my interactions.

I know in my heart of hearts that had I taken another path in my life, the one seen as far more traditional and accepted (as referred to above: “right”), I could have a completely different outlook on life, and my interactions with people might be radically different from what they are. I wouldn’t be the me who I am. For better or for worse, call it what you will, but my time in the wilderness, my feeding the pigs, was good for me. God takes that period and honors it, honors the redemptive story found in it, honors the journey, and celebrates it with me. Kills the fatted calf over it. Calls for a celebration of unparalleled happiness over it. Lets me see where my life has taken me, and the opportunities to truly and genuinely be with other people in their own journey as a friend, a shoulder, as someone who can empathize with them. Lets me look at the scars I have and not see or feel the pain brought by them, but instead see where I have been healed.

It just hurts that some others don’t take that same perspective.

It also hurts that I sometimes play the role of the other brother in the story. But instead of having been the dutiful son who stayed in the traditional role placed before me, I watch as others are given a celebration, an opportunity, while I feel I have worked and worked and worked – and in spite of the blood, sweat and tears I’ve poured out, I see people who (in my opinion) get breaks they don’t really deserve. They get the (metaphorical) parties and chances to play in a field of dreams that I feel I deserve. And I get jealous.

It’s then that God gently – but firmly – nudges my heart. He asks me why I’m upset that people are out playing in my corn. He asks, “Is that why you did all of this? For you?” He asks why I can’t celebrate in the excitement of seeing other people get the fatted calf themselves; why don’t I see that this isn’t the end of the story, but simply yet another new beginning?

I know that one day, eventually, at the climax scene in this movie metaphor, my Dad will take the facemask off (or more appropriately, the blinders off me), and I will see the Why of why my life has been the way it has been. I’ll have that moment in the cornfield where He steps in to play catch with me. That I will have that time when it is explained – not in so many words but simply in my spirit – why I had to plow down the cornfield. Why – perhaps – in my mind I see myself as having to be a farmer, when instead I’m supposed to be something else. (I mean, for all I know, I’m supposed to be a writer…) Why I had to do all that has been asked of me. Why I had to take joy in celebrating the victories of others (seeing them take on jobs, roles, responsibilities that I know that I can do).

Why I had to watch as others do what I feel and know in my heart I could be doing, but simply not (apparently) at this time, in this season.

God will play catch with me. Giving. Receiving.

And just like He did at the creation of all things, He’ll look at this new creation, this new beginning, this start, and say it’s good.



Saturday, October 17, 2009

Random Deep Thought of the Day

So - I had this thought while I was playing with Kai this morning:

He's gotten to the age where he really recognizes me. Not just in the "hey, I know this guy; he's hung out with me a lot and I kinda feel safe with him" way, but in the "that's my daddy!" way. Ash will call me by name (Daddy, not Sonny) and he'll start to laugh, his eyes will light up, and he gets genuinely excited to see me - to just be in my presence. And when I smile at him, he smiles back - and then starts to laugh.

This made me think about my own relationship with my dad...and what I am missing by not having him around, as well as other introspective and personal thoughts that make the backdrop of a rainy Saturday afternoon very appropriate.

But I also started thinking about/paralleling Kai's reaction to me to my own reaction to the movement and presence of God in my life.

Kids, for as complicated as they make things sometimes (i.e.: eating out), truly pare some parts of life down to the simplest of concepts. I see how Kai reacts to being around me - and I wonder: isn't that joy, that expression of completeness, that happiness at being with me how I am supposed to feel and what I am supposed to experience when my spirit and The Spirit co-mingle? Shouldn't there be a celebration, a comfort, in and through me? Shouldn't I just get elated when I look (and just like Kai, sometimes all I need to do is not look around but simply notice) and see my Father noticing me, and smiling back at me?

And honestly - doesn't God feel that same happiness, that elation at being in our presence? Is seeing us so full of joy and vibrancy part of what makes communion with Him enjoyable on His part, and why He longs for us to be with Him?

Does this mean that God and I share an emotion? (Rhetorical question.) Does this mean when I look at Kai and he looks at me, that the joy we both feel - with it coming from two completely different perspectives - is kinda the same as when God looks at me and I at Him? (Rhetorical question.)

So what does it mean when as of late - I've not felt that connection, that elation with God?

That's a non-rhetorical question.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Happy Half-Birthday


Six months ago, on March 26, 2009 at 1:33 pm EST in the afternoon...my son, Malakai Joseph was born, and the landscape of my life was forever changed. For the better.

I can't believe that it's been this long already. Wasn't it just yesterday that I was sleeping in a hospital room, staring at him at all hours of the night?


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The FAQs Continued Continued

Based off some of the feedback I've gotten over the past few years, I'm answering some of the most Frequently Asked Questions about this site. FAQ One, "Why Looking Through the Windshield," can be found here. FAQ Two, "Why Chase the Kangaroo," can be found here. Now, read below for FAQ Three...

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FAQ 3: WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE BOOKS?

For some reason, people think I’m a writer. I guess if forced between the choice of calling me a writer as opposed to a semi-professional cataloger of the migratory patterns of sea turtles, then I’m a writer.

As such, people tend to ask those who write whom they the writers have read and appreciated. So, in no particular order, here are the books which if I were to be stranded on a deserted island I’d like to have with me, and why:

10. CATCHER IN THE RYE: If you want to know how to make a teenager or pre-teen read, tell them there’s a book they can’t or shouldn’t read. I was first introduced to the “Banned Books List” in the ninth grade, and I took it as a personal challenge to turn it into a checklist of books I should read. While my motivation to read this book may not have stemmed from the most noble of ideals, JD Salinger’s most well-known tome did strike a chord in me like few other books have. I used to re-read it every summer, beginning with my senior year of high school and running through 2007.

9. BLUE LIKE JAZZ: Donald Miller’s series of interconnected personal essays was the first book about life and faith I had ever read that didn’t seem formulaic, like it was written to be a best-seller, or shallow and trite. I felt like I was actually getting into his head and life…and I was surprised at how many ways I found myself staring back at myself in his writings. He also made me think that maybe I could have a shot at writing and people might read it. I also would love to just grab a cup of coffee with him someday and just see what conversations spring up organically between us.

8. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: Epic. Deep. Layered. Allegorical. And a litmus test for those who saw the movies and thought it might be “kewl” to read the source material. I’d love to know how many copies of the three books were sold to individuals who made it about a quarter of the way through the first book, wonder who the crap Tom Bombadil was, and gave up, placing the books on their bookshelf so that visitors might think they’re well-read.

7. FARENHEIT 451: Ray Bradbury wrote this book for me. Yes, yes, yes – I know he wrote it as a partial critique of television, but come on. It speaks on so many levels, especially to a young boy growing up in the Deep South, whose thoughts and worldviews were often contrary to the popular ideas and social morays of his environment...

6. THE RAGAMUFFIN GOSPEL: I’m not quite sure what inspired me to pick up Brennan Manning’s book. Maybe it was the title (and I was curious how Rich Mullins toed into it). Maybe it was the convergence of about six other books I was reading at the time. Maybe it was just that I needed to read a book that gave me real-life language and examples that told me that no matter what I had done or how hard I had fallen, I wasn’t beyond the reach of grace. This book also inspired both the first time I ever spoke in a church (Mosaic – see this way older post for the sermon notes, or just go read Isaiah 61) and when I spoke at my dad’s funeral. It – along with BLUE LIKE JAZZ and VELVET ELVIS – is one of the few books I know that I have given away multiple copies of.

5. STARMAN: James Robinson’s seminal tome on superheroes. – which is really funny, because it’s the most antithetical superhero book I know of. As opposed to the continuing stories of Superman, Batman and the like – which will be published as long as the medium exists – Starman is a close-ended generational epic, currently being collected in six oversized and very thick editions, and it will tell the complete story of Jack Knight: the coming of age story of a man who fights against his family and heritage, eventually embraces his calling and comes to peace with himself, the journeys that his life takes him on, the eventual reconciliation (of sorts) with his father, and how he decides the most important thing in the world to him is not being what others want/make him out to be, but instead to simply be a father to his son. Yep. Absolutely no parallels to me at all.

4. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: As a Southerner, and as a writer, I am contractually obligated to love this book. Thankfully, my love of it comes honestly and not out of false sense of duty. Plus, after reading it, the phrase “bust up this chiffarobe” entered my lexicon and hasn’t left it since, much to the chagrin of my wife.

3. THE ARTIST’S WAY: Read it. Do what it tells you to do. If you have ever felt any inkling of creativity or you “used to be artsy” and have let your spirit atrophy…get this book. I think I got this as a gift back in 1995 from a dear friend of mine, and it “forced” me to think, re-think, and re-evaluate both my life and my abilities. I’m not using hyperbole when I say that probably next to the Bible, no other book I have ever read has shaped me, shaken me, and made me who I am today. One day, I need to thank Julia Cameron for writing this.

2. VELVET ELVIS: Rob Bell’s widely read (and criticized) book on faith and spirituality will either make you want to move to Grand Rapids to hear this guy speak in person or make you want to write a critical response to it. There is no middle ground. For me, if Rob decided he wanted to sell photocopies of his grocery list, I’d buy them. I clearly side on the side of those who agree with about 96% of what he has to say. The remaining percentage is just “out there” and radical enough that it sparks me to re-evaluate what I believe and why. Plus, it’s given me some good ammo for deep conversations.

1. THE NEXT BOOK I HAVEN’T READ YET: No, that’s not the actual title of a book. I know that out there is some other book that will make me stop and have a full-on Bill and Ted “whoa” moment. Yes, I could have added in a few more books that kind of made me stop and think (The Grapes of Wrath; Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline; Mike Yaconelli’s Messy Spirituality; Jim Palmer’s Divine Nobodies), but I prefer to leave this spot blank for now.



Saturday, September 19, 2009

The FAQs Continued

Based off some of the feedback I've gotten over the past few years, I'm answering some of the most Frequently Asked Questions about this site. Part One, "Why Looking Through the Windshield," can be found here. And read on below for Part Two...

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FAQ 2: WHY WAS THIS SITE CALLED “CHASE THE KANGAROO” FOR SO LONG?



If you really stop to think about it, you can somewhat trace the ways in which you’ve grown and matured throughout your life by looking at your musical history.

As a child, it was the repetition of sounds and words, the limited tonality and scale that gave comfort to us and made the songs we knew as kids have some of their appeal. Kids’ songs are all almost sung in a major key, with thirds and fifths making up the majority of the variation in the pitch. The sing-sing (ha) manner in which the music and lyrics matched up and told a story made them easy and fun.

We next began to start singing along with our parents in the car, as the drove us to wherever we were headed. We started listening to their music, and – as kids tend to be enraptured and captivated at times by what mom n’ dad have to say – their artists and their songs became our songs. Really – who at the age of nine would get drawn to “Brown-Eyed Girl” on their own? We sang along with what we were given on the radio/CD player, and we began to feel a little more grown up because we weren’t just listening to “baby” music any longer.


Soon, just as with other aspects in life, the things our social peers (friends) enjoy begin to bleed over into our everyday. Soon, what is cool with the gang begins to supplant the “old” of what mom and dad in terms of fashion, and eventually our musical tastes. Think about the times in school when you were introduced to music that maybe – just maybe – your parents hated and thought sounded like a cat in a blender.


Now think about that first album, that first song, that took everything you knew about music, every way in which you enjoyed music, and turned your world entirely upside down.


Elvis. The Beatles. The Rolling Stones. Michael Jackson. U2.


the choir.


Many of us can remember that one, galvanizing moment as the needle hit the vinyl, and in retrospect, it was almost as if that hiss of static on the turntable was the world taking a deep breath before it plunged into a heretofore unknown and mysterious paradise of sound…


For me, it was my junior year of high school. 1988. And my moment came in the form of a cassette tape with a cover that looked like it was a cross between a finger painting and a bad photo, from a band that apparently didn’t believe in the rules surrounding grammatical capitalization and had a thing for Australia.


But first a little bit of back-story.


As one of “those” kids who grew up in a traditional church setting, I always thought of heaven and God as being a little bit…dull. Back in the Paleozoic Era of church music (pre-Passion/David Crowder), all that we knew of music that was “pleasing to God” came in the form of centuries-old hymns. Now, it wasn’t that the hymns themselves were unappealing or even uninspiring; it was that the manner in which they wee sung had absolutely no enthusiasm or drive behind them. It was like listening to – or worse, being in – an elementary school musical, singing “Farmer in the Dell” for the 4000th time, having rehearsed all the fun and enjoyment out of the sing that we had initially felt while singing and doing the hand motions.


At church, we sang the songs our parents sang, never really understanding the weight of the words were offering up to God.


Then came the beast that was Christian radio. Well, rather, the AM radio station. And, watch out: not only did they play Gospel music, but they got a little wild and crazy by going all “out there” with some of the artists they played on occasion. This was when the comparatively-non-traditional artists like Evie, Twila Paris, Sandi Patti and Larnelle Harris would hit the airwaves. They were a little too…upbeat and contemporary for Sunday morning (and Sunday night, but maybe once a month on Wednesday night), but their music was still considered “good, Christian music” all the same. I mean, just count the number of times they said Jesus’ name in any of their songs.


Now, unknown at this time to the church body at large, the “Jesus Music” movement of the 1970’s was slowly taking root throughout the country. Artists like Daniel Amos, Randy Stonehill, Larry Norman, the Second Chapter of Acts – they were laying the foundation for the explosion of performers who were to come after them (very John the Baptist of them – which given their literal and metaphorical long-haired and wild natures compared to the mainstream church culture they were coming out of…). The “Christian music” scene and church youth groups of the mid to late 1980’s would soon see a massive proliferation of albums and artists that would forever alter the way that music could be viewed by some believers. Meltdown at Madame Tussaud’s and I Want to Be a Clone by Steve Taylor. Russ Taff’s Medals. Unguarded by Amy Grant. Michael W. Smith’s The Big Picture. Streetlight by DeGarmo and Key. Back to the Street by Petra.
And here’s where my shift in music began to occur: from the rote-performed hymns to Steve Green to the next stage. From what I knew as a child…to enjoying what my parents liked…to finding my own song. This is also where we story now catches up to real time.


Chase the Kangaroo by the choir hit me between the ears like nothing before. This wasn’t just music: it was artistry. The lyrics didn’t follow a pattern I was familiar with at all. The music was almost ethereal. And these guys were on the record label that was, at the time, the label to be signed to: Myrrh Records.


Without my knowing it at the time it was happening, I was seeing for the first time that I had held God in a music box for years. That I could, if I wanted to, listen to music that sounded like it was meant and spoke to me, and not designed for someone else. That this was what it sounded like to be in love with not only what you were singing, but also what you were singing about.


And if I’m totally honest, it probably helped a little bit that it did sound like so much noise to my parents. It’s the burden and blessing of the teenage years.


To me, Chase the Kangaroo was, and still remains, about pursuing your passions. About finding freedom. About being willing to think. About being free to express both sorrow and joy. These were themes and ideas that were sorely lacking in the songs music I’d spent years learning that were – again – pleasing to God. And for the first time, I felt like God wanted to hear what these guys were singing about instead of raising another Ebenezer.


Over two decades after the first time I heard the title track, I still find myself singing the song at the top of my lungs (alone, and in my car) whenever I play it.


Because this song reminds me to let the shovel go deep.


To let my heart be true.


To chase the kangaroo.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

The FAQs

FAQ 1: WHY “LOOKING THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD?”

Short answer: One day, when I was still living in Athens, Bryan Rose and I were having lunch in Schlotzsky’s. We started talking about deep life issues, and then Bryan drew a picture on a napkin. God said, “Yep.”

Longer answer: We have a tendency to make our lives, faith, and cars far more complicated and full of unnecessary distractions than they need to be.

In life, we tend to get hung up on names – everything from titles (ranging from your level of education to who you’re in a relationship with/defined by the company you keep), accolades, activities and interests. It’s the age-old example of how when you meet someone in a social setting for the first time, the standard fall-back line is “What do you do for a living,” or “What are you majoring in?” This can then lead into a discussion of what various groups, organizations, troupes, or other sundry fellowships one might associate with, and then in turn go on to be a conversation about how you’re involved with them. This really starts back in the days of junior and senior high, and then it spills into and through the college experience – and then, this need to fill the pause of when our resting heart rate feels as if it could bring on a coronary attack continues through our lives, as we continue to find other ways and other places to get involved, or find other ways to busy ourselves.

In matters of faith, we tend to either look for the designated formulaic patterns and rituals we are comfortable with (from everything between specific denominational idiosyncrasies to music styles) or we create that formulaic feel, replicating it where and when we can in what we crave. Too many times we find ourselves getting wrapped up in the trappings of being in church, then a small group, then a morning/afternoon social group, then in a leadership position, then going to conferences, then going to seminary…oh, wait; that’s probably just my personal cross to bear…but the reality is that many of us would probably rather undergo the literal pain of crucifixion than, as been suggested for us, to be still and know.

In terms of our cars, where we once – if we were lucky – had a cassette deck or CD player (that would be single-disc, kids), we now have the option of having a multi-disc CD player…as well as a GPS system, Bluetooth headset, iDock, dual individual A/C and heating controls, power seats, power windows, DVD players, and rear-view video. It’s the rear-view video hat just kills me. Nowadays, you don’t even have to turn around to see what you might back into. There’s never a “need” to literally look behind you to see what dangers are there, or to see who is behind you tat you might accidentally run over.

(I would like to thank the auto manufactures of the world for giving me the ability to make the metaphor listed above.)

Life…faith…cars…all of these used to be much simpler. And this isn’t just looking through rose-colored glasses into the past and pining away for bygone days and less complicated times. We have simply too many distractions placed before us, either by ourselves or by the constraints we allow to distract us.

In our daily lives, it used to be our family and friends that were our priorities. Now, more often than not, we allow extended work days (“I’m just putting in some extra time to catch up”), after-hour commitments and prioritizing “getting ahead” in our jobs – and yes, even volunteering our time and talents to any organization just to let ourselves be seen – that defines many of our lifestyle choices.

Our faith used to be centered on caring for our community and environment, however one wishes to define these two aspects. It used to be about letting our spirit and the Spirit intermingle in times of prayer, meditation and communion with others. Now, for many, it’s about doing what you can for your church, and forsaking a Sabbath. It’s about finding the five steps or three points to solidify your faith – when in reality there is really only One. It’s about finding ways to codify (emergent/emerging/traditional) or qualify the ways in which we worship, aligning it with a movement, association or denomination instead of simply letting our passions, dreams and callings move, motivate and define our spirituality. We’re so caught up in giving names to things that we forget that I AM is the only name we need to remember.

In our cars, it’s about finding the best satellite radio station or podcast, while simultaneously checking the GPS to see if we’re on the right street, while checking the billboards and neon signs we see. Or, we’re checking out the cars – to say nothing of the drivers – that pass us, wishing we weren’t driving the decade-old faded-in-color Jetta with a sagging roof and detached front bumper. We’re comparing others’ supposed credentials (if ever the term “street cred” was applicable, this is it) and how nice their cars are, never really paying heed to our own speed, or distance from the vehicle in front of us.

Maybe it’s time to stop giving so much validity and value to all these distractions and instead begin to trust our hearts, and the path of our own journeys.

Maybe it’s time to strip off the nametags and put away the business cards and day planners…and simply breathe and be. Spend time with family and friends, free from an agenda.

Maybe it’s time to again tear down the temple veil after we put it back up…and honor the beauty of redemption. Revel in a simple, pure faith, free from the trappings we impose on it.

Maybe it’s time to pull our eyes up from the dashboard…and take an unobscured look at the world around us. Simply and directly…

…look through the windshield.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

10,000 Random Fans Can't Be Wrong

Okay.

According to the little tracking whatzit that I have the monitors the visitors to and from this site, since the metaphorical doors opened at my blog, as of this week, I have had 10,000 unique visitors who have stopped by to read, comment, or just to pass by on their way around the Information Superhighway as they head to Woot or someplace cooler.

This of course leads me to my question: who the heck all visits this website, and why? Yeah, yeah - family, friends, and others who tell me they come to read my ramblings...I got your back. But the rest of you...?

Other than just out of sheer curiosity trying to discern what my "readership" is (I mean - I am not a well-known writer by any stretch of the imagination, and some might argue not a particularly good one, either...), I am understandably interested in knowing who the heck YOU (and yes, I am looking at you, Gentle Reader, right at this very moment) are...and why you're here.

Feel free to leave a comment below, or shoot me off an email at sonnylemmons@yahoo.com if you feel so inclined.

...and you do, of course, realize that my hand is now forced to start publishing the FAQs of this website. The first (which will see publication soon) is FAQ 1: WHY "LOOKING THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD?"


Sunday, September 13, 2009

The First Six Weeks

Ah, the first six weeks. The time when things generally shake down; when we watch how the community begins to take shape; when we see how people adjust to an entirely new environment; when we see how and when residents adjust to their roommates, the new dynamics surrounding them, and set and establish an entirely new pattern of life, dealing with the new opportunities, choices, and schedules set before them.

Many of my friends in higher ed know exactly what I’m talking about. Funny that I’m actually referring to my transition into a full-time stay at home dad and parenthood in general and not dealing with residence life. For once. I mean – who knew that years and years of working with high school and college students would have given me a somewhat decent foundation for how and what to expect of myself with this moderately mega-huge life change?

It’s not that every answer to all the issues – internal and external – that I’ve been working through can be found in the pages of the sage wisdom of student development theory books. I’m not advocating that the next edition of Education and Identity needs to be authored by Chickering, Reisser, and Seuss, or that we need to start assigning negative numbers to Perry’s stages of development so that people can build up to a Level One (somewhere, out there in Internetland, at least three student affairs nerds just chuckled…). I just find it nothing shy of somewhat – well, funny that a decade ago when I started grad school, I never would have or could have envisioned that those days spent sitting in Drs. Dunn, Grandpre and Wilson’s classes would have prepped me for being a daddy. Or, at the very least, given me a nice parallel to watch unfold.

Life is amazingly cyclical. It’s almost as if God knows what He’s doing, and actually has a plan for my life. That one moment leads to the next, even if I don’t see the connection at first. Like how old friends reconnect after years of silence, only to find they have more in common now that they did when younger.

The Divine is kinda kooky like that.

Anyway, since we student affairs geeks like to talk (…endlessly, at times…) about the importance of the first six weeks of college, here are just a few insights that I have gained from the first six weeks at Malakai University:

CARTILAGE IS OVERRATED: One day, I hope to regain the feeling in my shoulders and lower back, or at least feel something other than pains that make me wonder if my birth certificate is off by a century, ‘cause DANG if I don’t feel like I’ve got a walker coming to me in my near future. Although this bundle of awesomeness is still less than 20 pounds, carting his majesty around (and rocking him, and cuddling him) has done some amazingly painful things to my body.

THERE ARE NO BUSINESS CARDS THAT FIT THIS: I have jokingly said to some friends that when I’m asked what I do for a living, I’m going to start saying that I work from home, running an Internet sales company that specializes in selling yarn. Why? Because the real answer of “I quit my job and am now a stay at home dad” gets some of the most AMAZING reactions from people. Really. When asked, if instead of answering the question I pulled a live trout out of my pants it might seem less shocking. I wish that I could just say this reaction is just a cultural thing here living in Miami, but God knows that if I tried to pull this while living in the South…with me not having a job, being a stay at home dad, and doing everything I can to eat organic and/or soy products, and advocating shopping at local businesses rather than chains…I might be considered by some people to only be one VW Van and pair of hi-top shoes away from starting a commune or a cult.

WHAT’S A “WEEKEND?” I never really stopped to realize that I was leaving a job that required extensive after-hours and weekend work for a job that requires complete after-hours and weekend work. Every time that Ashley has said “I am so glad that today is Friday,” I’ve had to stop and remember that days have names.

DAYTIME TV DOES NOT DESERVE ITS OWN EMMY AWARD PROGRAM SYSTEM: Really. The overall mental health and cognitive growth of the nation would be better served by showing nothing but test patterns on television daily beginning at 7:30 am, save for public television networks that show educational programs, until 3:00 pm. Then they can all start to show cartoons. Netflix has been my saving grace for those times when it’s raining too hard to take Kai out on a stroll.

“SNACK FOODS” SHOULD BE CALLED “SNEAK FOODS:” People are constantly amazed at the volume of coffee I ingest on a daily basis. The reason for this is threefold: (1) I am one of those weirdos who actually LIKE the taste of a good cup of coffee, (2) it’s a very social drink, and it’s easy to ask someone to join you in having a drink to talk about life, and (3) it beats the crap out of eating mountains of Kit-Kats, chips, jelly beans (my personal Kryptonite), or other easy-to-chow-down-on-and-eat-way-more-than-you-realize-you’ve-eaten-until-the-freaking-bag-is-empty snacks. America is not obese because we’re lazy; we’re obese partially because our taste buds have developed the attention span of a Tsetse fly.

When asked about my job if I like it, I actually can say with no reservation that 90% of the time, I love it. It’s that ten percent that I have to struggle with. It’s difficult not having an outlet (call it what you will, work can be a form of escapism) every day that gives my mind something to focus on. It’s hard to not be able to hold a conversation that involves a lot of smiles, clapping, and discussions centering around primary colors and shapes. It’s frustrating at times that some days, at best all I can steal away is 20-30 minutes for myself (which explains the sparse updates).

But with all due respect to Melanie, Raymond, Ann, Jen, Brit, Keener, Fletch and John – Kai is, by far, the best boss I’ve ever had. The benefits package is beyond belief.