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.