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

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.