Monday, December 27, 2010

A Non-Blog Blog Post

My Stocking Got a Socking

Hoo, boy…I think I may be one of the few people who makes it out of this holiday season having LOST weight. But before you get jealous, just read on to find out why…

CHRISTMAS EVE: I’m up till 11:30 or so, putting together a train, laying down tracks, and constructing a table the train tracks go on. While I’m certain that the mere existence of the instructions for this monstrosity are somehow a violation of the Geneva Convention, I was determined to not let this thing get the best of me. So, having conquered this beast, I went to bed, satisfied in my manly ability to wield a screwdriver.

CHRISTMAS MORNING: I woke up with what felt like a massive headache developing. I figured it was from not drinking enough water the day before, staying up late, not having had enough coffee, or a combination of all. By 11:30, the headache threatened to sideline me for the day, so I told Ashley I was going to go lay down for a while.

Two hours later, I awoke. With a fever. Of 100.1.

Yeah. That's not a fever. That's a radio frequency.

My fever continued off-and-on to rise and fall throughout the next two days, managing to crest at 101 last night, before it finally broke. And it broke hard: I was sweating so badly around 2:30 this morning that I almost went outside in the below-freezing temperatures just to cool off. 

Thankfully, today – aside from some minor biological aftershocks – I’m doing much, much better.

But, it meant that my prime writing period to post a blog entry today was somewhat take up by my sleeping off a massive fever. So, expect something deep and insightful next week, kids.

Not a Fever Dream

So, back this fall, when I attended the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta, I managed to meet a lot of rather cool people. (Check out the links at the side for some of the sites of these individuals.) One of them, Scott Williams, runs a site called Big Is The New Small (conveniently hyperlinked here for you). I first got “introduced” to Scott via Twitter, and at Catalyst, I managed to meet him in person and snag one of the his “Church Diversity” T-shirts – a shirt which has become a staple in my wardrobe. Anyway, aside from being one of the most down-to-earth and REAL people you can meet – both on-line and in person – Scott’s a talented writer (how he can say so much in so few characters makes me kinda jealous) who loves to pay forward with kindness, be it tickets to conferences, shirts, books, or other fun gadgets.

Basically, he’s cool. If you have a Twitter account, follow him. If you have a computer connected to the Internet (which, if you’re reading this…chances are ya do) go to his site.

Anyway, for one of his promotions, he was giving away a copy of a book a friend of his wrote. Five lucky winners would get the book, and one extra lucky person would get…something else. The winners were going to be announced Christmas Eve, but since my Christmas Eve was taken up with reading Sanskrit construction instructions, I totally missed the announcement.

The next day, before I drifted off to sleep, I got a message from Scott, telling me to check his website for the winners. I figured this was some kind of generic email sent to everyone, but I thought what the hey – let me see who I need to congratulate. 

And then I discovered something.

I was one of the lucky winners.

The extra lucky winner, in fact.

The extra lucky winner who won an iPad.

An. iPad.

I emailed Scott, telling him that I was only functioning on one cup of coffee thus far, and that I wasn’t really cognizant enough to know for sure if I was reading this correctly or not. If I was, well HEY NOW! If not, man – what a way to pull someone’s leg on Christmas.

So, in a few short days, I will be receiving my free iPad from BigIsTheNewSmall.com.

Almost made the fever and nausea of the past two days worth it.

Almost. But not quite.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hark, the Herald Humans Sing


This will probably skew dangerously close to preaching. Consider yourself warned.

Every so often, God likes to nudge my spirit with a gentle “Why don’t you stop judging what is being said based on your past experiences and instead just listen?” I will admit: for as far as I have come, there are still a few chips I carry on my shoulder from my heydays of wilderness-ing that I unintentionally dare God or others to knock off. Those who have been burned by church leaders or those in a church may understand what I’m talking about: you almost can’t see beyond the stereotype or the face(s) of those who in some ways forever changed the way you see your faith.

Case in point: I have an issue with some church planters.

Now, before my friend count on Facebook takes a massive hit, please hear me out.

I will admit that not EVERY mission trip or church plant results in a herd of moderately well-intentioned White folk going into an area to bring a message of hope and salvation via a church they build by engaging in what is no less than a “drive-by-Jesus-ing” in that they drop a framework of a very WASP-y Christian life into a culture that may not even understand the need for graphics behind the lyrics of the worship music projected on the screens. Savages.

And yes, I have seen and felt much love being given and received by those who go and those whose worlds they come into. However, we need to be honest: missionaries used to do exactly what I outlined above and call it God’s work. They followed the Crusades as a template of evangelism, but instead of using swords, they used the Word (which, funny enough, those words are strikingly similar in their spelling) to subjugate and justify their actions.

And it still happens today. Far more than it should.

That’s why when the church we’ve been attending started talking about planting a church in India, I grunted a bit like Adam Baldwin’s character on Chuck. I foresaw an apocalypse where the culture of the region they were going into was to be subjugated and transformed into a wasteland of strip malls with check-cashing storefronts. Mainly because one verse was touted as the central impetus/driving reason to go: Romans 10:14 - How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

And I was suddenly reminded of all the negative stereotypes of church planters/missionaries that I knew. And I was suddenly reminded of the times this verse had been used to justify far too many things.

And before I could shut my mind and heart off and begin to jot down questions to inquire of the team going, I was suddenly reminded by God to be still…and know. To look beyond myself and into the Word that was being offered.

Turns out that the verb in verse 14 – “preaching” – is actually translated Kerusso in Greek. Kerusso simply means…herald. One who goes before. One who is simply to proclaim. Not evangelism (or the practice we may more commonly know as Televangelism); this means bringing a good message.

Or, to make it holiday-centric, a glad tiding. Good news of a great joy. For all the people.

Matter of fact, Romans 10:15 goes on to state: And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  

If you stop to think about it in this framework, perhaps it makes much more sense (and more readily lines up with Biblical principles) to think of the witness we are to bring as behaving in the role of an angel at Jesus’ birth (Luke 2). The angels arrived, probably looking a bit on the whiter-hue of the color spectrum, what with that whole bit about the Glory of the Lord shining round about them, to an indigenous people who at first may not have understand why they were there. The angels then began to share a message, using a story the shepherds could understand because it came from their culture.

Proclaiming. Radiant. Praising God.

What’s really cool is that if you look at the passage in Luke 2, nowhere does it say that the angels appeared in the sky. It states (a) in Luke 2:9 that an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, (b) in Luke 2:13 that there appeared a multitude of the heavenly host, and (c) in Luke 2:15 that the angels “had gone away from them and into heaven.” For all we know, the angels appeared on the hillside with the shepherds, perhaps having walked up to them. They may have actually been on the physical ground with them. Sharing space, sharing a story. Not appearing above them, but on their level.

The second time in one night that the presence of God came down and dwelt among us.

It’s that radiance, that heralding, which I have (includes faith, hope, and love) for this group going and the work they will do in India.

It’s that radiance, that heralding, which I feel challenged to live out myself.

What if I possessed that radiance, that brilliance, a light that shines so brightly in my life that it dwarfs out the stars during my interactions with others? ESPECIALLY in this holiday season of travel headaches, lines of impatient people, and dealing with fruitcakes (both literal and of the biological family variety).

It’s an interesting spin on the Christmas story. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Do You Hear What I Hear?


Okay, honesty check: it’s been…a while…since I’ve written anything. 

Thankfully, I have a plethora of previous writings to pull from so that the site keeps getting updated. I was trekking along there at a nice little writing clip for a while, and then…poof. Well, more like “pow” than “poof;” I think it’s just been the combination of emotional turmoil in my mind and heart that’s kept me from really finding enough internal peace to be able to write. I’m trying to break through this, but it’s not easy.

Also, I feel so incredibly UN-festive this holiday season that we might as well be walking around buying gifts to celebrate Columbus Day.  I feel neither holly nor jolly. And this, as much as my writer’s block Great Wall of China, needs to change.

Enter the iPod.

So, to help try and get myself into something relatively approximating the feelings one is supposed to have at this time of celebrating the birth of Christ, the joy of being surrounded by friends and family, and the stress of being surrounded by friends and family (can’t have one without the other) – here for your reading enjoyment are some suggestions for not only quality holiday music, but also suggestions to download to use to drown out the noise of said family and friends.

The albums listed here are in alphabetical order, not in order of preference. And good luck hunting down some of these albums. Some are what we like to call “collector’s items.”

Bethlehem Skyline, Volume I: Okay, I’m man enough to admit that I bought this album (a) because it was on sale AFTER Christmas last year, and (b) because one of the bands on here is called Circleslide. However, I have come to love two tracks on this album in particular: “How Many Kings” by Downhere, which I find myself listening to year-round, and the ONLY cover of “Mary, Did You Know?” (by Jason Gray) that I can stomach.

The Broken Christmas: Adam Again. Ojo. 4-4-1. If the names of these bands mean anything to you, man – are YOU old, and a bit of a CCM geek. Yes, some of the songs on here are so dated in their versions that they’re painful to listen to, but so many of the songs are so hauntingly dark and beautiful that they reflect the bleakness of the season coupled with the promise it holds better and more poignantly than any other Christmas album ever has or ever will again. Released in 1988, it’s VERY hard to find, but well worth the price.

Celtic Christmas I and II: I have no clue why I bought these, but man, am I glad that I did. They’ve become my default albums to listen to around the house as I need to have something playing that is comforting, soothing, and relaxing.

Christmas (Various Artists): “Winter Wonderland,” as performed by a mariachi band and sung by Steve Taylor, HAS to be listened to in order to be believed. Another gem from 1988, this was released to highlight the artists on Sparrow Records at the time. White Heart’s “Little Drummer Boy” has the singular distinction of sounding timeless (in the arrangement), inspiring (with Rik Florian’s vocal range), and oh-so-80’s (with the choice of the keyboard and drum machine). This has since been re-released, so you might be able to download a few tracks.

City on a Hill: It’s Christmas Time: This is kind of a mixed bag – if you like modern Christian artists (Jars of Clay; Caedmon’s Call; Sara Groves), you’ll love 99% of this album. For me, the duet of Michael Tait and Leigh Nash singing “O Holy Night” – my favorite Christmas carol, BTW – makes the CD. Two VERY powerful vocalists who gave a very reserved performance on this track.

The Darkest Night of the Year: The first Christmas album that Over the Rhine put out. OtR, for those of you keeping score at home, is probably my favorite band still touring (yes, surpassing even U2). Get. This. Album. You will thank me. It’s the perfect album to listen to in the background, as you have a glass of wine and watch the snow falling outside. And for some reason, it always makes me tear up a little with how quietly majestic the songs are, reflecting the bleak midwinter coupled with promise.

Noel: In 1995, what could have been better than an album featuring The Choir, Riki Michelle, Michael Pritzl (of The Violet Burning), and Buddy & Julie Miller? Nothing. That’s why I bought it. In 2010, what could be better than me smiling at the lineup of artists on this CD and remembering that they served as tether for me to stay true to my faith even when I was not? Nothing. That’s why I’ve kept it. The covers of the Christmas tunes on here tend to skew towards more traditional arrangements, and sometimes, that's just what you may need.

Snow Angel: As Darkest Night was reflective of the musical style of OtR when it was released, so Snow Angel is of the “modern” music of Over the Rhine. …which basically means it’s a cleaner, better-recorded album, with a strong folk music influence. And I will always listen to “White Horse” and remember standing outside in the freezing cold with Ashley while we waited to get in for me to see OtR for the first time in concert when we traveled to KY to go see them while we were dating.

Wintersong: It’s Sarah McLachlan. It’s wonderful. It’s amazing. It’s something you need to own.

So – what do YOU enjoy listening to during this season? Are there any albums or songs that make you think, “Hey – this is Christmastime.” 

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Hey, Kids - Want to Win an iPad?

My sister is the Executive Director of FCS, so I kind of have some faith that this is, in fact, legit:

Please support Family Crisis Services of Northwest Mississippi, Inc. by purchasing a raffle ticket to win an Apple IPAD with Wi-Fi - 16GB. Each chance is $20. The drawing will be held on Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 3 p.m. at Family Crisis Services - you do not have to be present to win. To purchase a chance, you can either purchase one from a Family Crisis Services staff member; by calling Family Crisis Services at 662-234-9929; stopping by our office - 503 Heritage Drive (Oxford); or for out of towners, you can mail your money, along with your name, address, and telephone number to PO Box 1698, Oxford, MS 38655.

By participating in this fundraiser, you will be supporting the efforts of Family Crisis Services of Northwest Mississippi, Inc.

Family Crisis Services of Northwest Mississippi, Inc. is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit that serves victims of sexual assault, homicide and other violent crimes (both children and adults), provides family support services to all families in our community, and serves as a Child Advocacy Center for child abuse victims .

FCS, which began in 1992 as a Rape Crisis Center under the direction of Georgia Nix Miller, broadened its scope of services over the years as community needs surfaced and it became apparent that victims of other types of violent crime needed support and assistance as well as support services for families and the community through prevention education programs.

FCS provides a twenty-four (24) hour crisis hotline, crisis intervention, legal advocacy, counseling, information and referral, forensic interviews, and education to victims of crime, as well as many programs to create community awareness of the numerous issues concerning victims and violence, ALL FREE OF CHARGE, due to the generosity of community members.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Man or Mouse?

This is going to either be proof that I need to start making my coffee the night before so I can start drinking it the minute I wake up, or it’s proof that Rob Bell has been right about at least one thing: everything IS spiritual. Either way, if you’re a parent, or have a wee one in your life in some fashion (as a relative, someone you babysit, etc.), you may laugh at this a little.

A while back, I wrote out Sonny’s Theological Dissemination of the Disney Channel, which is conveniently hyperlinked here – and is somewhat required reading for the remainder of this blog entry. So go on and go read it; I’ll still be here when you get back.  Anyway, since at 20 months of age, Kai still has this obscene idea that getting up before the sun rises is just the best game EVER!, I am stuck with finding myself every morning dragging myself out from under the covers and lugging a far-too-aware-of-his-surroundings toddler into the living room to stare at the magic talking box with bright colors.

Now, when Kai was half his current age, he didn’t really mind what we watched. I could slam in a DVD of Doctor Who, The X-Files or another show that I wanted to watch to help to get my mind moving. Nowadays, if the show we watch doesn’t predominantly feature primary colors, I am greeted with a chorus of words like “Help,” “Uh-oh,” “Gone,” and – obviously – “Mouse?” We have managed to branch out a bit in the shows we watch in the morning, thanks to a newfound love of Timmy Time, Imagination Movers and, sadly, Chuggington. But the Mouse…the Mouse remains the favorite.

And the other day, I realized while watching a particular episode for what felt like the 67th time why I didn’t like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse:

Mickey Mouse reminds me of everything I dislike about a number of modern preachers, particularly televangelists.

Bear with me for a minute…

If you’ve never watched an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (called MMC from here on out), the Mickey in this show is not really reflective of what one might term the “Classic” Mickey Mouse; then again, maybe it is, and this rodent has had us ALL fooled for decades. In MMC, Mickey is a narcissistic, egotistical leader of a small band of committed followers who buy into his every word and action and follow him blindly. Every day, the activities have to follow a pre-set routine, even going so far as to close out the day with the same song every day. Mouseketools are used in Mickey Mouse Park, where the Mickey Mouse Obstacle Course if located, and is found just outside of the grounds of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

…see the theme starting to emerge?

I mean, where is Walt in all this?

Look at two of the more well-known voices/faces in popular ministry these days, and call them names that may or may not rhyme with their real names: “Roel Holstein” and “Hed Eung.” (Go on, sound them out. You know you want to). Neither Roel nor Ted have a CHURCH named after them, but both have their names emblazoned on their respective ministries. Both have .com, .org, .net, .tv, and dot-whatever domain names registered under their own identities. Yes, yes, yes: you can go to their church’s website, but there you can find hyperlinks to their respective blogs, bookstores, or whatever. For example: you can order the necessary Hed-Eung-etools, like a DVD set or devotional book, available from Hed Eung Ministries, to be used at a Hed Eung Conference, where Hed Eung is speaking, quoting from Hed Eung’s Twitter account, available to people who “Like” the Hed Eung Facebook Fan Page. The argument could be made that such “leaders” in ministry are narcissistic, egotistical manipulators with a LARGE band of committed followers who buy into their every word and action.

…see a pattern starting to emerge?

I mean, where is God in all this?

Now, I’m not so ignorant as to not understand or discount the need (in some ways) for personal branding. I understand the need to protect intellectual properties and copyrights of the works of the individual…but the bigger question that I have to ask is this: is the work that is followed and respected the work of the man or the ministry? Is there a defining line?

I know from working in higher ed for lo these many years that more often than not, when brought on as an employee at a new school, one must sign a form which grants all intellectual rights and properties of projects created while an employee of this establishment to the entity which employs you.  Papers you write for publication? Presentations given at conferences? The intellectual rights of these created by you remain yours, but you still have to pay homage to and give thanks to the one that maintains and sustains. In this case, it’s the maintaining and sustaining of a paycheck and steady employment, for (to paraphrase a certain Bible verse) without a job, you could do nothing; or, at the very least, probably not this particular thing.

However, the analogy still holds:

Man, or mouse?

The created, or the Creator?   …and I don’t mean Walt.

However, I know that God can be found even in the actions of and words of someone who may be too busy preening in the mirror to hear Him. I know that this brand of “Designer Christianity” isn’t going to completely derail the faith I have. I know that God is bigger than the ego of both some who claim to represent Him, and He’s bigger than Mickey Mouse (sorry, Kai).


I just have to remind myself to not seek the magic in any earthly kingdom. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

East of Eden (part two): Wake Up


Maybe it’s because I recently re-watched the final season of LOST. Maybe it’s because I keep going back to the Book of Genesis and rereading the Creation Story and the Fall over and over again. Maybe it’s because I recently have been revisiting my own spiritual reawakening, making peace with what led up to it and with the me of who I was before this reawakening. 

Whatever the reason, I have found myself thinking about Eden a lot. Especially in terms of how the Biblical Eden relates to the false Edens we construct around ourselves.

Our hearts and minds finally connect and “get” the need for salvation when we understand and accept that our lives are NOT in Eden; when we understand and accept that everything in our lives is not perfect, and that not all our needs are met. We may try (and God knows, we do try) to act as if everything is perfect, and that we have everything we need. We have money. Power. Prestige. Respect. The right everything: car, family, friends, social circle, house, home A/V system, clothes – you name it.

But eventually, we eat of the fruit that opens our eyes. And at that point, in that instant we realize that the Paradise we thought we were in is instead Wilderness.

For me, my fruit was a mirror. A literal mirror that one day I looked into and I finally had to accept the fact that the person in the reflection was not who I wanted to see. Oh sure – the outside looked great (please; like there was ever a doubt), but for the first time in a long time, on that day I looked deeper. I saw things reflected that were not as easily detectable to someone looking at me. I took a look in me.

And man – did I find some Wilderness there. Barren. “Scorched Earth,” to be exact. I had allowed everything to be burned down, and I was guilty of throwing some Molotov Cocktails at my own heart.  

It’s been said that the Fall of man was in some ways “a heart-level betrayal between committed friends: between God and man. At issue in the tragedy of the garden is a relational crime.” For me, it was a failed relationship that led to me failing my relationship with God. I chose to start calling my wilderness a paradise instead of seeing it for the all-too-populated-with-snakes danger zone that it was. I continually and intentionally turned as far and as fast as I could from the Voice calling out to me. I didn’t necessarily hide because I was ashamed of being naked; I hid because I just didn’t want to answer Him, because in doing so, I would have had to face the questions that I had been avoiding. 

One of the best, most striking visuals used in a number of episodes of LOST was an extreme close-up on a character’s eye as they woke up. One of the most heart-wrenching moments in the series finale (SPOILER ALERT) was when the characters began to wake up from the false, “perfect” reality they had constructed for themselves. They may have been living in the reality that they thought was everything they ever wanted, but something happened to cause them to become aware of the Eden awaiting them.  

Love, between individuals, sparked an awakening.

And eyes were opened.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I connected with the stories on this show as much as I did (other than the fact that every freaking character on the show had father issues): they were broken and flawed, and in need of an awakening.   

And into Eden.  The Eden they were meant to live in.

Monday, November 22, 2010

East of Eden (part one): The Nose Knows


It’s the question that has kept theologians awake for hours on end, debating the significance of this verse. It’s been the point of division between denominations, shattering and splintering them, as their members choose sides, tearing asunder their families. Dr. Peter Venkman might even go so far as to suggest it would create mass hysteria, human sacrifice, and have dogs and cats living together…

It’s one verse, taken from the Old Testament, found in Genesis 2:7: Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed life into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Now, I’ve never considered blowing into someone face as an act of holiness. In fact, there are only three times I can think of when I intentionally exhale my breath and someone gets a whiff of it in their nose: when I blow into my dog Maggie’s face (which annoys her), when I blow into my 19-month-old son’s face (which makes him giggle) and when I blow into my own hand to check my breath to make sure it doesn’t have some rancid post-coffee smell to it.

But in reading this verse as part of my “Sonny is stuck re-reading Genesis” kick, I was taken aback when I actually paid attention to what was written in this passage and didn’t just gloss it over mentally like I do so many times with passages I think that I know. Did the Bible actually state that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils to give him life? That’s not how I remember the felt board lessons of creation from Sunday school when I was a kid. You know – God created man out of clay, conveniently having a plant nearby to cover the naughty bits out of our line of sight, and God grabbed Adam’s hand and helped him to stand up.

But, since I was certain that God was trying to show me something in this passage other than to wonder “What does God’s breath smell like?” I decided to dig a little deeper to see what might be found.  And I discovered that the words bolded above in the verse have some unique translations when we look at them in Hebrew…

Nostrils. Aph. Masculine noun. Refers to the breathing part of the face. What’s crazy cool about this is that to me, it infers that the nose is meant to be the primary place from where we are to breathe. Think about it: in singing choral music, in meditation, in trying to get ourselves to just calm down – we always inhale deeply through the nose. The nose can also betray our emotions at times: we may have a completely stoic look on our face…and yet our nostrils might flare (showing anger or frustration). This also makes the term “mouth breather” seem to be a bit more derogatory (SINNERS! ACTING OUT OF ACCORDANCE WITH GOD’S DIVINE PLAN! And you just look weird.).

Breath. Neshamah. Feminine noun. Refers to a puff of air or spirit – or, the soul. Synonymous with nephesh, which roughly translated means “breathing creature,” and is often found in combination use with the word “ruach.” (Hmm…male [aph] and female [neshamah]. Where have I read those words before in Genesis…?)  Now, if you stop to look at this in a literal way, it shows that according to the creation story, God animated us with His own breath. The Ruach Elohim. God imparted His Spirit into us to get us started in life. This goes beyond thinking of creation as starting with us beginning to breathe on our own once we rose up out of the dirt. Nor is it to be thought of as some form of divine CPR where God kickstarted us and we hen took of on our own. It really puts a new spin on John 15:5 when Christ says, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

Like, say for example, breathe.

Maybe it’s also allegorical for why we can’t hold our breath for a very long time – it’s like trying to hold in God.

And good luck with that.

So think about this week - especially in the midst of the chaos that surrounds the holiday season, including how and why 87 metric tons of food is coked and consumed in homes in America - and how, where and when you need to take a deep breath; how, where and when you may find yourself out of breath; how, where and when you need to remember to just breathe.

Breathe in the minty-fresh Spirit of God, and let it revive you.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Millstone or milestone?

Around my neck against my heart I wear a wooden cross, and sometimes I remember what freedom cost. the choir. “Circle Slide.” Circle Slide. 1990.

I rarely, if ever, get self-indulgent when I write here, so please bear with me as today’s post deviates from the norm.

This Wednesday marks a major landmark birthday in my life. I’m already well past the age of when conventional wisdom tells me I should be trusted (30), and on Wednesday I enter into a new decade: I hit the dreaded big 4-0. It’s the point in life where many people remark “it’s all downhill from here on.” It’s the age where complaining about getting too old for some things, complaining about your back or neck, or yelling at those darn kids to get off the yard can be justified on a daily basis.

I’m not sure when it was exactly, but some time back, I stopped caring about my birthday. I still note it on the calendar with a bit of a growl escaping my lips and a glare in the mirror at the ever-increasing lines around my eyes, but at some point in the past, I stopped caring about celebrating. I’m not proud of this fact, but I need to admit it to myself that I am a bit of a birthday Grinch. I simply stopped looking forward to being surrounded by my friends and family. Maybe it was around the time I moved to Miami and was physically removed by distance from a number of people I had grown to love having in my daily life. Maybe it was after I turned 30 and realized getting toys as gifts (well, as the PRIMARY gifts I would receive) was less appropriate than it was something I should ask for/expect. Maybe it was when I started to notice the candle-to-cake-top ratio was growing smaller every year.

But more likely, it’s because this time of year gives me emotional ADD that gets kicked up to eleven. Yes, the beauty of the bleakness and change of seasons does make my heart sing at times. However, the unfortunate reality is that this time of year also marks way too many personal anniversaries in addition to the one surrounding my birth.

From the beginning of November until the turn of the calendar year, my mind constantly goes to the numerous moments of impact that have left their mark on my heart, all of which have occurred within this small window of weeks throughout my life: wedding anniversaries; endings of marriages; births; deaths; final exams; celebrations a-plenty; nights spent drenched in tears; dreams becoming reality; friends who have moved away; and friends I have lost through words which should have been left unspoken. 

I’m like the poster child for seasonal affective disorder. So much has affected me during this season, I constantly feel emotionally out of order.

And then there’s the fact that I amaze and confuse a number of people when they learn my biological age. “No WAY,” they exclaim. Apparently it’s because I don’t look or act like any self-respecting 40-year-old (!) would. And absolutely no person my age would just decide to chuck his job.  Well, maybe because of a mid-life-crisis, but not for any other conceivable reason. According to the opinions of many of my friends and colleagues, right now I should be in a stable, mid-to-upper-level career point as a college administrator. I should have the nice little letters “Ph.D.” following my name. I should have this kind of car, this kind of house, these kinds of clothes, and for the love of God, please shave. I should act my age.

I wish that I could say I’m not affected by the thoughts and words of people as they sit and judge me/offer advice on how I need to be according to the dictates of society. I wish that I could not think, “Maybe they’re right.” I wish that I could live my life as free of being hindered by what others think as in my heart I want to be.

But I'm not. I am affected by these words. Not held captive by them or to them, but they do affect me on some levels.

And part of me is glad for that, because it means that I’m not as emotionally cut off as I think I am at times.

Maybe it would be better if instead of looking at it as growing another year older, I should just celebrate by having people say “Happy New Year” instead of “Happy Birthday.” After all, right around this time of year for almost 15 years running, something happens to make it seem like either through choice or circumstance, there’s a new beginning about to take place in my life. Heart and soul shattering endings that dovetail into potential (and sometimes forced) fresh starts.

Maybe I should start making my new-year resolutions on my birthday as a way of giving myself something, and also as something to look forward to for the coming year. A measure of something to hold myself to that’s not dictated by what polite society says a man of my certain age should look like, act like, or be like.

A gift of freedom.

I think I’ll start by giving myself permission to be free of certain memories.

And maybe – just maybe – I’ll start to feel like having a party to celebrate it.

And if so, you’re invited.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Pray This, Not That


Oh, older writings of mine. How you vex me, as I try to decipher my own handwriting. And, as I stare in wide-eyed wonder at how things I wrote then can and do run parallel with things I am going through now. Take this for example; it’s from a journal entry six years (!) ago, written while I was reading Matthew 6; specifically, in dealing with the Lord’s Prayer:

“Prayer opens our hearts and minds to God. Going into a prayer, it should not be formulaic. This is not a time for theater. This is a time for honesty. Prayer should make us open and receptive to the Spirit, giving us hope when we begin to pray for the things we otherwise would never have known to instead of just asking for the things we think we should.”

Now, I know the way my mind works (most of the time; I take no responsibility for some of the cracked-out dreams I’ve had). I know that in some ways I wrote this as a response to the fact that Christ says “Pray, then, in this way” (verse 9) and not “Pray, then, exactly as I do.”

I wrote this because I saw then (and still to this day see) so many of my friends and fellow believers struggle with prayer.

We take refuge in things that are ritualistic. We take comfort in the formulaic way that life works (i.e.: job = money = good & services). Comparatively speaking, we can more readily accept it (for the most part) when life throws us a curveball and our plans don’t go according to – well, plan, but if life doesn’t go according to our prayers?

Clearly, God didn’t listen. Clearly, we didn’t pray the “right” way. Clearly, we didn’t pray hard enough, long enough, or trusting enough. Clearly, we didn’t confess enough sins, or maybe we didn’t confess the “right” ones.

We believe that we didn’t follow the agenda.

But in reality, we did.

We followed our own.

Look at another prime example we have of Christ’s recorded prayers in the book of Matthew. If ANYONE in the history of life itself ever had a reason to want to get whipped up into a frenzy when He prayed, I’d be willing to grant that award to Christ while in the Garden of Gethsemane (chapter 26). He had the foreknowledge of was about to happen. He knew that He was destined to die.

And in His prayer, He was Himself. He didn’t feel the need to pull the “I am Your Son!” card and plead with God. He didn’t follow the tenets and rituals he had been brought up with as a Jewish man. He didn’t feel the need to do or say anything other than what was on His heart (basically, “I am scared.”).

And yet, He knew that God would listen to Him.

He was honest.

My prayer is that I find that honesty. That I keep to that honesty, and that like Christ, I pray in that manner: opening my heart. Trusting. Not asking. 

Believing and trusting in myself to at least be honest with God, even though it is hard to be honest with myself.

Monday, November 01, 2010

I Write Pyrite


I’ve been going through a number of older journals of mine, trying to find some gems in them to mine out and blog about. Like many writers, I wince at some of my older writings, hoping and praying that they never see the light of day – or at least not without the help of a good editor. One of the things I find exceptionally humbling is the number of people read this blog and discover something of worth in the words found here. Whether it’s an essay I have written that I know God used to show me something directly, or an entry where, after reading over it, I wonder “Okay – where did THAT come from,” there’s been a point behind all what I have written down and shared – whether or not I have been aware of it. 

Of course, this doesn’t stop me from still thinking some of my stuff is total crap.

In fact, my plan was going to make this cool, witty post about how I consider my writings to be “fool’s gold” and not real gold, so I went to the repository of all knowledge (Wikipedia) to find out the mineral composition of fool’s gold. You know – so I could make a joke at my own expense. It was going to be marvelous word-play regarding what I thought about some of my writings.

But what I read caused me to stop dead on my keyboard.

It turns out that the name pyrite – “fool’s gold” – is derived from the Greek πυρίτης (puritēs), meaning "of fire" or "in fire", which is also derived from πύρ (pur), "fire". In ancient Roman times, this name was applied to several types of stone that would create sparks when struck against steel.

Yeah.

Turns out that humble pie has a metallic tinge to its taste.

Now, I’m no theologian. I don’t hold a Masters’ degree in Divinity or any ministerial derivative thereof. I’m not, as I have called so many of my friends employed by churches, a “professional Christian.” I’m just a poor, wayfaring stranger. But even I, in my limited scope of understanding, can infer a few basic principles that God was trying to show me:

Proverbs 27:17. As iron sharpen iron. God uses my words (rather, the words the Spirit gives me; I can’t claim ownership of them) to sharpen myself and others.

Acts 10:15. What God has called clean (my writings), I dare not call impure, or of no worth.

And so I am challenged, as I challenge my fellow writers, speakers, ministers, bloggers, Twitter-ers, and the like. In those moments of wondering if what you do is of any worth, or even if you are of any worth: in the times when you question the quality of your words, in the quiet of wondering if what you do, type or say has any lasting meaning…

Isaiah 55:11. What I write will not go out and return empty. It has a point and a purpose.

It’s not fool’s gold. It is not worthless.

It is precious. 

As are you. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Deep will I dig, I...

I see a shovel in the hand of a wild-eyed man with a mission and a goal below...  
Adam Again. "Deep." Dig. 1992.


This is just so rife with analogies, I’m not going to insult anyone by pointing them out; I’m just going to let them speak for themselves.

About four months ago, we moved into a home here in Columbia, SC. This past Friday (21 October), while Kai and I were playing outside, I decided to finally take care of something that had been annoying me for several weeks. On the side of out house, where the yard has a somewhat steep incline, there were a number of roots sticking up in the dirt. Old roots, from where a tree had apparently once stood. The tree itself was long gone, but these roots were still there, embedded in the soil. Since Kai loves to run in the yard (I don’t think my kid was born with a “walk” setting), and especially since he has recently found out “Hey – I can walk – nay; RUN up and down this hill all on my own,” these roots which were once just annoying soon became dangerous. I mean, I didn’t want him to trip on one of them, fall down, and potentially hurt himself because they weren’t removed. These things served no purpose, save to remind me of where a tree once stood; so, it was time to get rid of them.

This is the first time I’ve not lived in an apartment or residence hall in…well, let’s just say years, and leave it at that. As such, since I had no need for any yard equipment, I had nothing with which to do any outside work when we got here. This has since been rectified after more than a few trips to Ye Old Home Improvement Store. One of the reasons I had not attempted to get rid of these roots was because they looked kind of imposing. I mean, we’re talking about roots that were a good 1-2 inches in diameter that were jutting out from the ground. Partially covered by the ground surrounding them, I had no clue how deep they ran, how many there were, or what the length of the things were  below the surface.

So, after going to the basement to grab a shovel, a spade, and a pair of hedge clippers (look, I never said I was GOOD at yardwork; and anyway, I wanted all the tools I had with me in case I needed them), I decided to just tackle one of the roots while Kai was distracted with a pile of rocks or something. I reached down, grabbed one of the roots, gave it a good, hard pull…

…and I almost fell backwards down the incline.

Once I began to pull these roots out, I was amazed at how…brittle…they were. How non-threatening they were. I mean, yes, I’m smart enough to realize that once they were cut off from the source of where they got nourishment, they would bound to die. But like I stated: these were sizeable roots. They’d been there a while, and I thought that it was going to take a lot of effort to get rid of them. Granted, it WAS taking effort, but not nearly as much as I thought it might. 

It wasn’t nearly as impossible as I had led myself to believe that it would be.

Yes, it would have been easier to leave the roots there. I’m sure that I could have found something else to do with my time that afternoon.  I mean, I saw them every time I came and went from the house, but were they really bothering anyone?  Dry, dead roots on a dry, barren ground might not be the most appealing visual, but were they really HURTING anyone by their presence?

No. Just sitting there, they weren’t hurting anyone, but that’s not why I got rid of them. I did this as much for Kai as I did for me: I didn’t want my laziness in getting rid of something potentially dangerous to cause him to stumble and trip, and I needed to clear some space for something alive and not dead to be there.

To be honest: it was a dirty, sweaty, time-consuming effort, but I knew that I needed to get these things up and out. Not only for the safety of Kai, but also so that they could stop choking out the space that was needed for something new to grow. Even someone like me who has a limited amount of gardening knowledge knows that for new life to grow and take root, you have to get rid of the old – including the undergrowth.

What really messed with my mind and made me hyper-think of this as a spiritual allegory was when I went out the next morning to see the yard. Astonishingly, it looked nothing like what I thought it might: the landscape was not irreparably scarred by the removal of these roots. The trenches in the ground where I had pulled all these roots up had been filled and tramped down by my footprints while I had worked on them. You couldn’t tell what had been there just a few hours beforehand. You couldn’t see the dead any longer. And here I thought it would have just been less messy to leave them where they were...

To be fair, I could still see them in my mind. I knew the exact placement of each of them, and I knew what was under that footprint in the ground. I knew approximately how deep that hole in the ground that had been filled up was. I know that in time I won’t remember the details. I won’t remember the work it took to get them up, or how messy it was.

I’ll just see my kid running and playing on fresh, new grass, and that’s all I’ll need to see.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Aborting God


So, the way I figure it, that title’s either going to get some people to inhale sharply because they’re shocked or offended I would pair those words together, it’s going to generate some emails to me, or it will just sit out here in Internetland, unread and twiddling its symbolic thumbs.

Either way, this post is going to be about me holding up a mirror to myself while trying not to blink or turn my head away in shame. If you can relate, pull up a chair. I’ll put a pot of coffee on, there’s some beer in the fridge, and a bottle of wine in the cupboard. We can stay and chat for a while.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first and foremost: I am NOT using the term “aborting” with the, sadly, all-too-commonplace connotation that it has today. The use of the phrase “aborting” here comes from the more (for lack of a better term) classical description: Noun: the act of terminating a project or procedure before it is completed; or Verb: terminate before completion; cease development; die.

You could just as easily call this “leaving God,” but let’s be honest: we leave God all the time. We leave Him when we choose to undertake an activity that we know we shouldn’t be involved in.  We leave Him when we decide to get all prodigally in our attitude and actions. Leaving God is something that many of us are all-too familiar with doing, sometimes on a regular basis, and with little remorse.

Aborting God? That’s a different action altogether.

Think about the military movies that you may have seen where, after days, weeks, or months of training and preparation, something goes unexpectedly wrong in the mission, and the call is made to abort. Nine times out of ten, there’s some tense dialogue about how this is the one and only chance to do whatever it is that they’ve set out to do, just before the hero makes the tough choice to either pull out  (complete with dramatic music playing in the background) or s/he decides to just blaze on ahead, regardless of the orders or advice they’ve been given to let it go.

I was thinking about this in my own life after I made a comment to a friend about how the church he is working for was looking for a way to pull out of a long-term commitment they have made, thereby aborting God (based on the description under “noun” listed above) and what He might have in store long-term. 

How many times have spent days, weeks, or even months of preparation (usually, but not always, this involves prayer of some sort) for an event or decision, and then…boom. Something happens. Something I didn’t prepare for occurs. Something doesn’t go according to plan. In my marriage. In my job. In praying that I be healed of something. In praying that my dad doesn’t die. In praying that some cup set before me can just be taken from me. The tension rises, the dramatic music cues up in the back of my mind, and I utter a full-strength Jack Bauer “DAMMIT!” before…I abort the mission. I abort the long run.

I abort God, and what He might want to show me about the mission, the life, I am to walk through. I terminate my heart before completion. I cease development.

I die. And not to myself, which – spoiler alert – is what we are called to do. I die in my arrogance, I die in my willingness to be flexible.

I die in my ability to be the brave hero, wiling to keep on keeping on, when all the world around me says to abort the mission. I die in my ability to see and have faith in the unseen, and to trust.

I need to be stronger, no matter the cost, no matter the “inconvenience” to me, to have the faith see whatever I am called to do to full term.

The situation itself may be beyond my control, but mow much I am willing to allow my faith in God to dictate my actions is God is well within my ability to control.

Now.

In the interest of at least trying to see IF anyone reads this stinking blog of mine (and I know you do, you silent little stalkers you), feel free to (a) leave a comment below, or (b) send me an email. Maybe what you have to say is similar to a struggle that some other anonymous reader might be going through. 

And you can learn that you are not alone.  

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Cata-list

BECAUSE NO ONE DEMANDED IT...the Top Ten items that made Catalyst 2010 so incredibly cool. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Having Scott Williams take my photo because he thought I looked like someone he worked with. It was my first paparazzi moment.
  • All the free swag: books, CDs, DVDs, downloadable content...
  • Being mistaken for Damon Lindeloff (and my friends who KNOW me understand that this just totally made me float on air)
  • The Bloggers Meetup, where I was able to make connections and new friends.
  • Driving back and forth from Athens' doorstep to the convention center every day, proving that even at my "old age"...yep. I still got it. Sleep be hanged. 
  • Meeting people in real life whose work I have read online and have come to be inspired by. People like Alece, whose life and words challenge and move me to not only be a better writer, but a better person. 
  • Discovering Project 7 coffee. Go. Buy. Some. Today.
  • Seeing friends who I have not seen in years. Twice I came close to tears because of who I was hugging. It's been way, way, way too long since some of these people and I shared the same space. And I promise that three more years will not pass before we see each other again.
  • Finding myself. 'Natch. 
  • Coming home to my wife and kid. As great as it was to get away and get refreshed, there's just something about coming home to the ones who love you.