Monday, September 17, 2007

Hiatus

I've been on blogging hiatus for a while. Besides the new job, getting acclimated to a different place, getting the kids in school, and just generally being pretty busy, I've also got a new project that I'm working on. At the website for my church you can now ask a question and we are going to do a video blog to answer it. Should be fun, and I'm going to try to do one most weeks (no guarantees!). Hopefully it will have both a serious and humorous side to it.

Otherwise, I'm going to start dedicating an hour a week to do the blog, so hopefully you will find new content on here at least once a week.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thumbing Your Nose @ Death

When I was a teenager, my girlfriend and I would stick out our tongues every time we drove by a cemetery - I suppose our way of stickin' it to death. I'm not really sure why we did this, but it did elicit some kind of risque feeling, maybe like we were mooning the preacher when he wasn't looking. Of course, now I'm the preacher...

At some point, something happened that made me think I shouldn't be doing that. Somehow I got this feeling that death was somehow going to stick it to me if I didn't watch myself.

Every day since we've moved, I drive by this very large cemetery on the way to the church building. Somehow Nancy and I got on the subject of how we wanted to be buried and what we wanted to have happen to our bodies. Do you ever have those conversations, and then are a little freaked out by them? I don't know why it bothers me to talk about it - I'm not really all that worried about dying myself. But for some reason I don't even like saying the word "dead". I much prefer the euphemisms such as "passed away", "no longer with us", "moved on". I've grown out of liking phrases such as "kicked the bucket" (what in the world does that mean, anyway?).

My dual feelings on this perplexes me. I'm really not worried about my own death, as long as I feel like I'm giving it all I got. Maybe it is just a more healthy understanding that our time here is so short. What bothers me more is that the time that I do have is slipping so rapidly between my fingers. The time with the kids, laughing and playing. The time with my wife, most everything we do, except maybe when she is being annoying like hanging over my shoulder when I'm cooking, except even those times are good. And the memories are fading. Jonathan as a baby. I can barely remember holding Autumn when she was little like she was my doll and I was never letting her go, and her just kind of barely hanging on like she was independent, but still wanted that touch (even at two). Friends. Moments to myself. Memories.

Death Be Not Proud
by John Donne

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Writing Blogs

I've been out for a bit, but I think I have a good excuse this time. My wife left the kids and I in Pennsylvania and headed back to Texas to finish packing. I know it had to be done, but it still wasn't very nice of her but I'm sure I'll forgive her the moment she walks in the door.

So I've been playing the single dad for the past 11 days, and it has been tough. I've loved the time that I've gotten to spend with the kids, but my schedule is pretty whacky - get computer time for emails and calls, 8:00-9:30a; breakfast and chores, 9:00-10:00a; playtime, plan day, 9:30-10:00a; work at the church, go to a park, eat, run errands, 9:30a-5:00p; try to finish off something whether it's play or work or eat, 3:00-10:00p; actually put together my public speaking stuff, 10:00p- ;worry that I'm missing something, 2:00a-8:00a.

The kids have been great. They have been swapping days to see who works on the kitchen, trash, and laundry (Autumn actually folds the clothes, us boys are lucky to put them in the right room). But so far I consider my job as a the single father a success. Here is my criteria:

House not lit on fire
Underwear not hanging on living room furniture
Color check the fridge - get rid of anything green once a week
House not flooded

We've even set up a system to water the plants - put the brownest one outside until it rains, then wait till another starts to turn brown. The magic to our wonderful system!

Anyway, we will try to keep our sanity until she gets back by

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Prayer for our own Freedom

Holy God – in this precious hour, we pause and gather to hear your word– to do so, we break from our work responsibilities and from our play fantasies; we move from our fears that overwhelm and from our ambitions that are too strong,

Free us in these moments from every distraction, that we may focus to listen, that we may hear, that we may change. Amen

--Walter Brueggemann
From Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003 p. 61)

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

More Journeys


So now I am in Pittsburgh, PA! For all my southern friends, it was about 75 degrees yesterday; don't worry, I hear it may get all the way up to 90 at some point.

If you've never ridden across the country with your family, everyone should do it at some point. Not only because you get to see some different scenery - such as the flatlands, the hills, the people who populate the gas stations off of highways - and not only because you get to experience new thrills - such as sitting inside what feels like a dryer to get to the top of the arch in St Louis (thanks for the image, Rory) - but you get to experience your family.

There is nothing like all day and night in close quarters with your family for a few days. There are great moments and there are low moments, and no running from either. Nancy and I were driving separate vehicles and at one point I had convinced her that all 3 kids needed to be together for a while, which conveniently left me by myself for a short time. That is, until Nancy called on the cell and said, "You are taking one of the kids and I don't care which one."

There were moments I hope to treasure, such as my five year old telling me how to drive and pass other cars, singing with my daughter (which shows her great love that she even enjoyed it), and talking about books with my ten year old. Holding hands with my wife under the arch and walking next to the Mississippi river.

Even the conflicts were teachable, at least in retrospect. We need to be able to live together and the knowledge that these people I am with are valuable and worth crossing barriers for gets you through. And we do need each other, especially for those moments when I am not acting as valuable as God sees me.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Weddings and God

I'm officiating a wedding in Austin for a friend of my brother's. The bride and groom are very nice; I've had a chance to meet the groom before and he is easy to talk to and seems very sincere. I was joking around with my brother about weddings and we were discussing the eloping alternative, and I started wondering what a Vegas-type wedding would be like.

I spent some time wondering what I would say in a wedding ceremony that did not include God. At first I thought it would be very short: "Do you want to marry this person?" But the longer I think about it, the more "what if's" come into play. What are you going to do if you have a disagreement? What if a job situation arises that provides opportunities for the two of you in different places? What if you come to a time and a place in which it will be a long, hard struggle to find intimacy again? Will the answer still be "I will"?

Most of the time the answer is, "I need to know my options". So maybe the new question is, "Do you now, and forever, without knowing your options"? Are most people sincere when they make that promise? When does the answer change? Maybe we are not doing a good enough job helping people count the cost of marriage. Maybe, in our microwave age, thinking ten years ahead is just a blur anyway.

Does the current job loyalty climate mirror the commitments we have to our spouses? When I was in the business field, it was rare for someone my age to have stuck with the same company for ten years - in fact, it was seen as a failure on your part as if you couldn't get a better job with another company. I don't see a problem with that in your career, but we could see this just as well when we would invite a group of people over for lunch or dinner. We knew how many to invite because only so many would bother to RSVP, and even those that RSVP'd, a percentage of them would not show, some never bothering to let us know. When asked why they didn't show (at first I asked, but later gave this up), the general answer, not in their exact words in order to be nice, was that they had found a better option. I later found an article stating that event planners only count on 70% attendance rate. Maybe all of this is a part of the sociological ethos that says, I've got to look out for myself because no one else will. In the end, we just can't trust anyone.

From my perspective, I hold Jesus followers to a higher standard. No "maybe's", no "for right now", no "well let's just try it out and see what happens". There are legitimate reasons for divorce for safety because of abuse or disloyalty from your spouse. There are definitely legitimate reasons for not showing up for dinner. But how casually we commit. I don't want to see the person sticking it out just because they said they would, I want to see the person sticking it out because it means a new level of understanding wrought from loyalty, a deeper presence in a life of intimacy, a more valuable treasure received from a sacrifice.

I hope I learn this. It has held true, for those moments when I am not self-absorbed. For those moments when I exist to do what is best for my kids, life is good. For those moments when I exist to help my wife, life is sweet. In those moments, trust is no longer the issue. I exist as a loving person of sacrifice and, at the same moment, become fully human. Then God is back in the midst of the relationship.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Imago Dei


Autumn's creative juices have really been flowing lately. Check out her latest creation - I just computerized exactly what she drew.

We have gotten to spend a lot of time together. Every moment has been special, and I am continually amazed by my kids. Autumn just helps reinforce my idea that when we were created in the image of God, it was the breath of imagination and creativity that separates us from the rest of creation. Thank you God for that blessing, may we use it wisely.

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What you might hear at the Vaught household

"Room 999 has a broken robot. The robot said that a human scum is taking his gold-plated socks that had spike attachments!"

Autumn ran into the room wearing a cape and yelling that. Also, apparently you have to do a dance when you say, "room 999." Must be Nancy's genes...

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Finding New Territory

My daughter and I are in Pennsylvania this week and having a blast. Sunday evening we were in someone's wonderful backyard with a large group singing songs and hanging out, and I was sitting in a chair, watching birds and the clear sky, and thinking: "In Texas, I'd have about 20 mosquitoes on my arm right about now." There are some things I just won't miss...

But I do miss the rest of my family, and we'll miss the good people that we've met and bonded with. Texas will always have a place on my heart, even if it is the bare, dry desert-y part.

Here is my new staff picture page. When I got here, I was told, by more than one person, that I'm better looking than in that picture. I took it as a compliment.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

Review of "Saving Fish From Drowning" by Amy Tan


Anonymous - A pious man explained to his followers: "It is evil to take lives and noble to save them. Each day I pledge to save a hundred lives. I drop my net in the lake and scoop out a hundred fishes. I place the fishes on the bank, where they flop and twirl. "Don't be scare," I tell those fishes. "I am saving you from drowning." Soon enough, the fishes grow calm and lie still. Yet, sad to say, I am always too late. The fishes expire. And because it is evil to waste anything, I take those dead fishes to market and I sell them for a good price. With the money I receive, I buy more nets so I can save more fishes."

When I saw a book by Amy Tan, a master storyteller, I was already intrigued but the title totally sold me. This may have been one of the strangest stories that I have read in a while: based on a true story of a tourist group that gets lost, it is narrated by the ghost of the woman who was supposed to have led the tour but was murdered and who was also an intriguing woman in her own right. The characters are all wonderful and real, and clash along the way to getting lost. For anyone who has gone on long trips in close quarters, you feel as if you are on that bus ride - irritated, quietly laughing at others, snickering at the inside jokes, and suffering with the setbacks.

The story grips you because you know you are heading for certain tragedy and keeps plunging toward that destination, dragging you along with it. I had one of the strangest feelings I have ever had reading this book: I didn't want to finish it because of what I thought might happen, yet I couldn't stop.

The Albert Camus quote at the front lays out the theme for the story, and for our lives: "The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding." Unfortunately, we rarely, truly understand each other.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Prayer to Teach Us by Rudyard Kipling

Father in Heaven who lovest all,
O help Thy children when they call;
That they may build from age to age
An undefiled heritage.

Teach us to rule ourselves alway;
Controlled and cleanly night and day;
That we may bring, if need arise,
No maimed or worthless sacrifice.

Teach us the strength that cannot seek,
By deed or thought, to hurt the weak:
That, under Thee, we may possess
Man's strength to comfort man's distress.

Teach us delight in simple things,
And mirth that has no bitter springs;
Forgiveness free of evil done,
And Love to all men 'neath the sun!

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Poetry

My daughter's writing is cracking me up lately. She has also been objectionably honest as well. Check out the acrostic she made of her brother Jonathan's name (I left in the original spelling):

Jumpy
Open to others
Nice
Arigant
Ten
Honest
Aranged
Nodle eater

I'm not sure I want her to do an acrostic of my name - I'd probably love 70% of it.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Brother

I wonder if your relationship with your siblings ever change much. I am in the mountains of New Mexico visiting my parents with the kids, and saw my brother and sister-in-law for a few days before they left this morning. The routine with my brother didn't deviate much:

* We tried to dunk each other in the pool
* We played video games late into the night (conquering new territory, albeit electronic)
* We discussed the things that are coming up in our immediate future - his building a new house and my move to Pittsburgh

It doesn't take us long to fall into this pattern when we are together, and we enjoy it as it usually good-natured and seems to reinforce the bonds that are there (even the time we were wrestling in the winter, trying to force the other person into the yellow snow left by the deer). I can imagine us, me about 75 and he 65, as we throw out our backs seeing who can lift the heavier weight (ala Manenbaughns on Seinfeld).

This pattern of life is comfortable, but when things change, or maybe even when they need to change, something always seems to be lost as the patterns shift, there is a time of uncertainty as both sides feel their way around again, and new patterns emerge.

I've been thinking about discernment lately. Seeing the patterns of relationships, the intertwining of the paths and the open spaces where we tread with other people. This is one of the areas of the stories of Jesus that fascinate me, how he could see to the heart of those patterns. He could understand the motivations and the perceptions, and then challenge those connections that we have with each other. He was a disturbing and destabilizing force.

Discernment. I believe some people are just naturally better at it, and some better because they work at it. I think we who try to follow in the footsteps of Jesus are called to work on their discernment. The problem is that it is so easy to use what we know about the patterns around us to manipulate them into strenghtening our own position. I suppose that is where wisdom comes in, being able to challenge the patterns around us so that it benefits all, even at our own expense. That may be the toughest when it includes looking at the ones that are closest to us, and the patterns will affect our own.

There are some forces in life that challenge us. My brother and his wife are expecting their first child, and that no doubt will mess with the patterns of their life, and those of us around them, from here on out.

So, tell me, how do you think we can get better at this discernment with a tad bit of wisdom thrown in?

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Poetry

My daughter wrote the following poem. She is always writing something, and this time she chose to do something clever and funny (she's only 8!):

Little Lilly Licker had the hic, hic, hiccups.
She hic'ed all day and she hic'ed all night.
Little Lilly Licker had the hic, hic, hiccups
And that is all that she could hic, hic, say.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sensory Challenge

This BBC site has a fun quiz to take on your senses. I scored an 11 out of 20, so at least I'm not a sensory dope, but was just "OK". I did best on the food and vomit questions - go figure...

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Weddings

I had the honor of officiating Mike Miller and Christine Johnson's wedding this past weekend, and it was a blast. They had a beautiful and simple wedding. Someone noticed that I was listed as the "celebrant" for the wedding - what would I have been called at a funeral? A "depressant"?

One of the groomsmen who had come up for the wedding from Arkansas asked us during the rehearsal dinner if we had any funny wedding stories. At my own wedding, it was such a blur for me that the only thing I remember is lighting the unity candle during a song, and then the choir sang like 5 verses of the song so Nancy and I were chit-chatting for quite a while by the candle. At my sister's wedding, the minister who performed the wedding kept calling her by some other name and she had to keep reminding him who she was. At my brother's wedding, I was the minister but bumped the table that held the unity candle and almost knocked it over. Lighting the church on fire probably would have been memorable.

Bruce Black, the Sr. Minister at Fairfax Church of Christ, has tons of great wedding stories, including one in which the people that were getting married were clowns. And yes they did.

Have any good wedding stories of your own?

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Update of Job!


We have officially accepted a job! I will be working with the North Hills Church of Christ in Pittsburgh, PA. Honestly, I had no idea how gorgeous it is out there. We will be moving this summer - more to come!

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Update


So if you've noticed, I've been a bit absent here and there lately. We've been out of town, I've been preparing for Mother's Day, and I'll be out this next week as well as I've got another interview and I get the privilege of officiating a good friend's wedding next weekend. Give me ten days, and I'll be back. Until then, stay dry (or is it just us in West Texas that has gotten the constant deluge of rain for the past two weeks?).

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Disorientation and Honesty

My friend Richard Beck reminded me of this quote from Walter Brueggemann:

“It is a curious fact that the church has, by and large, continued to sing songs of orientation in a world increasingly experienced as disoriented…It is my judgment that this action of the church is less an evangelical defiance guided by faith, and much more a frightened, numb denial and deception that does not want to acknowledge or experience the disorientation of life…Such a denial and cover-up, which I take it to be, is an odd inclination for passionate Bible users, given the larger number of psalms that are songs of lament, protest, and complaint about an incoherence that is experienced in the world…I believe that serious religious use of the lament psalms has been minimal because we have believed that faith does not mean to acknowledge and embrace negativity” (The Message of the Psalms, 1984, pp. 51-52).

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

The People We Need (More on Conversations)

I love this audio clip of Two Rabbis (thanks to Wade Hodge's blog for providing it).

I love that story because we desperately need people in our lives to challenge what we are doing and thinking. But at the same time, it is so hard to receive challenges, much less ask for them.

I have a wonderful relationship with a friend here in town, JJ, in which it never fails that we argue over theology every time we get together - and we love it! Nancy and I also have a couple friend in which we will occasionally disagree about something, and then we hug and keep moving along.

Somehow you just have to get over the fact that it is ok for people to disagree with you; besides, you're probably wrong or need to think about some issues from different angles, and you can't unless you can have those kind of conversations. I suppose the trick is determining which people really do mean it or take it personally and which don't.

I heard a quote about a decade ago from Bart Campolo that our theology changes over time, yet our faith is what is truly important. Distinguishing between the two is important. If you don't like people challenging your thoughts, then maybe you are relying on having perfect ideology rather than a loving relationship, and frankly I don't know anyone who has a perfect ideology.

Have you spoken with someone lately that come from a different place or just thinks differently? How do you challenge yourself so that you continue to grow?

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Monday, April 30, 2007

The Treasure (From "Tales of the Hasidim")

Rabbi Bunam used to tell young men who came to him for the first time the story of Rabbi Eisik, son of Rabbi Yekel in Cracow. After many years of great poverty which had never shaken his faith in God, he dreamed someone bade him look for a treasure in Prague, under the bridge which leads to the king's palace. When the dream recurred a third time, Rabbi Eisik prepared for the journey and set out for Prague. But the bridge was guarded day and night and he did not dare to start digging. Nevertheless he went to the bridge every morning and kept walking around it until evening.

Finally the captain of the guards, who had been watching him, asked in a kindly way whether he was looking for something or waiting for somebody. Rabbi Eisik told him of the dream which had brought him here from a faraway country. The captain laughed: "And so to please the dream, you poor fellow wore out your shoes to come here! As for having faith in dreams, if I had had it, I should have had to get going when a dream once told me to go to Cracow and dig for treasure under the stove in the room of a Jew - Eisik, son of Yekel, that was the name! Eisik, son of Yekel! I can just imagine what it would be like, how I should have to try every house over there, where one half of the Jews are named Eisik, and the other Yekel!" And he laughed again. Rabbi Eisik bowed, traveled home, dug up the treasure from under the stove, and built the House of Prayer which is called "Reb Eisik's Shul."

"Take this story to heart," Rabbi Bunam used to add, "and make what it says your own: There is something you cannot find anywhere in the world, not even at the zaddik's, and there is, nevertheless, a place where you can find it."

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

More Weird Conversations

Within thirty minutes we spoke of ear infections, lice (I was scratching my head for most of it), throw-up, etc. That is what first graders will do to you! At lunch, no less. To top it off, one kid brought cupcakes for his birthday, which the kids promptly rubbed all over their faces and showed me what it looked like in their mouth. The only saving grace was that I handed them over to the PE coach right after lunch when the sugar high would be at its worst. Good kids, but if you ever want a challenge then try herding six year old kids around.

A while back ago I got to supervise a trip of this same age while in DC to the Smithsonian Museum of Art - I am not a violent guy, but wanted to monkey punch someone for that idea. We were chasing kids through the artwork, security guards had their hands on billy clubs, and you heard yells such as "Don't lick that artwork!" I had to rush the kids through the room full of nudes and say, "No questions!"

No wonder I started to turn grey the day I had kids...

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Artist Known As Hunter

Another great 4-year-old moment: as we were driving home from a state park this evening, my youngest son chose as his new song "Come Sail Away" by Styx. Imagine hearing the chorus "Come Saiw away, come saiw away, come saiw away with meeee!" over and over from a 4-year-old as his older brother and sister croon away with odd background vocals. The nick-named him "The Artist Known As Hunter". The artist part might be stretching it a bit, but boy were we laughing. His previous favorite he called "The Pants Song": Daydream Believer by the Monkees, referring to the chorus line "Sleepy Jean". He would sing that one just as loud.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Review of "Who Needs God" by Harold Kushner

What I like about this book is that it is not apologetic in the most Evangelical sense of the word. There are no lectures on "hard" proofs or attempts to make you look foolish if you do not believe. It feels more like a conversation you struck up with someone while waiting for your favorite beverage from the barista. We tell stories of how we got to where we are, we laugh at the way laugh sometimes works out, and we ponder striking moments.

Why do we need God? Basically, because the totally independent human is a myth. We have weaknesses, we need support, and we need companionship from people and from God. So we discuss what it means to live, and to live well.

In keeping with the conversational tone of meeting someone new and interesting, Rabbi Kushner does not insist in being Jewish as the only way to learn to live but offers help and insight that he has learned from the Hebrew bible and those who have studied it.

How does religion help us?

Religion is not primarily a set of beliefs, a collection of prayers, or a series of rituals. Religion is first and foremost a way of seeing. It can't change the facts about the world we live in, but it can change the way we see those facts, and that in itself can often make a real difference. (p. 28)

This isn't a book describing a world in which getting everything you really want is what you really need and within your power (see previous review of "The Secret"), it is telling us that what we need to be human is already there if we can just see it.
Organized religion deals with our epidemic of loneliness not by telling us that if we pray properly, God will send us a lover, and not by giving us one more spare-time activity through which we can keep busy and make friends. Rather, it offers us a vision of a world where people no longer condemn themselves to loneliness by seeing all other people as rivals. It offers us a place to which we can bring our whole selves, not just that part of ourselves that we bring to our jobs and our hobbies, and to encounter the whole selves of our neighbors in a way we cannot meet them anywhere else. (p. 113)
As it turns out, and I hope this isn't a shock for you, we are rather limited in our ability to make sense of the "why did this happen" or "what is really going on" in this world. By viewing life through the stories of the scriptures, we can connect to not only the community of the past but with the stories and people we find ourselves in right now. How you fit into these stories will determine how you see your purpose in this world.

While there were times I would have liked to have delved deeper, or ask disturbing questions, those are more likely another conversation (see some of his other books) or use this as starter material and bring it up with your friends over your evening drink.

If you are like me, it doesn't sit well for someone who may not know you as well as they think try to force you into some mold. Rabbi Kushner weaves you into the stories and asks you to experience them for yourself.

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Anger


I drove to Dallas yesterday to pick up a friend out of prison after her nine month stint. Funny part of the conversation: I asked her if she was going to panhandle anymore, and she said, "No, the work is just too hard!"

She definitely does not want to go back to prison. One of her comments: there are a lot of angry people in there! Granted, she doesn't, uh, exactly have her whole act together but it was really sad listening to her talk about many of the very young women in prison who seem to be full of hatred and emotionally charged, a number of whom are in jail for battery and assault.

Why the anger? Where does it come from? How do we get so emotionally revved up that we take it out on other people? Maybe for many of us, we don't resort to physical violence, but verbal abuse and emotional daggers are pretty common.

My best guess is that we have wired into our heads some system of "fairness". The world is supposed to work in such a way that I and the people that I care about should get treated or have certain things and when that doesn't happen, my internal "no you di-uhnt" threshold is hit (my own version of pop-psychology).

For example, I believe that drivers should let other cars into a line if they make signals, such as a blinking light and wave, to make it clear that they need to be in your lane. When the other driver acts like she hasn't seen me, keeps her head straight, and then pulls up so tight to the car in front of her like she's stalking the other car, that anger thermometer in my head sets off alarms and hormones and all of a sudden I want to rip the cell phone out of hand and throw it on the highway. But that is just a for-instance.

Everyone that I know has this anger scale so that when it reaches that threshold weight, something breaks. We get angry with the source of that weight, or stress, whether it is people, a system, or even God.

Can I suggest something? Maybe our anger should start with God. The scriptures are filled with people upset with God, especially the Psalms, and He can take it. You aren't going to break Him, as you might someone else who may or may not deserve the brunt of the anger.

Once we've used up our emotional outpouring towards God, then we can think about the real source of our anger, how our sense of balance on our personal anger scale is set, and what we can constructively do about it.

Can this be done without a community? I doubt it. How often do we see people lose control in their lives because they have become isolated?

So fess up, ye quiet masses, on what you do about anger and how you adjust the scales.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Sacred Journey, Part 1

I am fascinated with the idea of how we view the sacredness of life and living. We live in a dualistic culture that separates the spiritual and the secular. Just having a word such as "spiritual" means that we then must have things that are not "spiritual." What if that is not the case? What if heaven, and God, are not way up in the sky, or looking over at us from another galaxy, but are in reality right here, right now?

I believe Gary Thomas in his book Sacred Marriage is on to something when he says (p. 13), "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?"

I would like to explore different avenues of our lives that we often take for granted or run roughshod over rather than thinking through what it means in that moment. For example, what if you made cooking a sacred event? What if you made eating a meal with family or other people a sacred event?

I think there may be some biblical support for that, and I'd like to ask some questions about what it might look like. Is there a danger in overthinking this? Maybe, but we have so underthought the little things in our lives that we get to the end chasing the "big" dreams and learn nothing. Is there a danger in making every thing "sacred" so that nothing is sacred, or getting too deep into the details? Maybe. Let's find out.

Here is my bigger fear - I get to the end of a week and look back. Did I grow? Did I learn? Was I alive in the moments? Are my relationships with people, my environment, and my God more alive or more numb?

I hope this isn't like talking to myself as I walk along - I might look a little crazy. Join in...

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Review of "The Secret" by Rhonda Byrne

If you have been having some negative thoughts, then you've hit the right place; at least, according to The Secret's Rhonda Byrne. Let me be up-front about this review - I did not finish the book. I'll explain later.

I wanted to check and see what all the hub-bub was about, so I looked for it at the public library and found out there was a wait. Not surprising, since I had heard that it was all the rage lately and that it had been featured on several shows. Well, I got a copy about a week ago and it was pretty much what I thought - health and wealth gospel in quasi-religious language, except that you are the god that is making it happen.

You want a great parking spot? Just concentrate on getting a great parking spot. You want a million dollars? Just think happy thoughts about getting a million dollars. It is apparently as easy as that. Now, if doesn't work, you must be thinking something wrong, like having subconscious negative thoughts or you just don't believe it strong enough.

How does this happen? In the health & wealth gospel, God wants you to be happy and if you just believe that, he will make it so. In this version, your thoughts manipulate the universe and "attract" (Byrne's word) whatever it is you are thinking, whether it is negative or positive.

This can include natural disasters and diseases. I had to put down the book when I read that. According to the book, the hurricane Katrina and its aftermath is the result of people along the coastline all thinking negative thoughts.

When people first hear this part of the Secret they recall events in history where masses of lives were lost, and they find it incomprehensible that so many people could have attracted themselves to the event. By the law of attraction, they had to be on the same frequency as the event. It doesn't necessarily mean they thought of that exact event, but the frequency of their thoughts matched the frequency of the event. If people believe they can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they have no control over outside circumstances, those thoughts of fear, separation, and powerlessness, if persistent, can attract them to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (p. 28)
So, when a good friend lost a young child, it was his or the child's fault? All those people that suffered during these catastrophic events were just asking for it?

By the claims of this book, Yes. I had to put the book down at that point because it made me angry (more negative vibes). I just picked it up today, several days later, and decided to just read through the chapter summaries.

The book asks an important question:
You have a choice right now. Do you want to believe that it's just the luck of the draw and bad things can happen to you at any time? Do you want to believe that you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time? That you have no control over circumstances? (p. 28)
No, I don't want to believe that, but I do believe that sometimes we are at the wrong place at the wrong time. I believe that there are many things in this world that are beyond my control, that my thoughts can't control. Apparently I'm in trouble. At least I'm in good company - as far as I know, none of these proponents of the secret has lived forever.

The real question to me is, How will you respond to events and relationships that don't go your way? That is the real test of character and growth.

What also upsets me is that they characterize the New Testament as another source of this great secret. More quoting small portions of scripture that hopefully supports your position, if you just ignore the rest of it. Somehow, when they say that Jesus said "just ask and it shall be given," it did not compute to them that he was tortured and crucified in a painful death as a common criminal. This man who purportedly knew "the secret" must have had some major bad vibes at the end of his life.

Now I do believe in the power of the mind to help control emotions and thoughts, and thus behavior. I also believe that our imagination is largely untapped as a powerful part of our lives. We can focus on positive aspects and have amazing success as a result of that. There is a placebo affect as our body chemistry responds to our thoughts. But blaming Katrina on negative vibes? You might as well believe that this "life" and "reality" are just a big dream that you haven't woken up from.

At least I can feel good about knowing that if you did not like this review, it's your own fault.

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Transforming into a Geek

The sad thing is, I know a number of people who would totally do this. Brent, if you are out there, send a video!

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Collections

So I haven't been real faithful to my posting lately, but hopefully that will change soon. We've had lots of stuff going on. But never fear, faithful participants in the exciting world of reading-stuff-on-the-internet, in the meantime I have lots of ideas sitting as drafts. Right now I'm trying to decide if I just post them all in one day or string them out. I have:

Reviews of more books, including The Secret, Who Needs God, and several others

The Ecosystem of Me

An old hymn that scares the bejeebers out of me

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you on what you collect. I've been thinking about what it is that I think enough of to collect and it is pretty easy to figure out once you see our house. I have books everywhere - next to the bed, in bookcases in the my bedroom, in bookcases in the living room, in my car, in boxes in the garage, in boxes in the attic, etc.

So what is it you collect?

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mission Statements

Have I mentioned lately that I am down on mission statements? It's nothing personal if you do happen to have one. It's not that they can't be useful, at least to a few.

I have to agree with Guy Kawasaki, a venture capitalist, that they are just overrated and generally cost too much time and money to generate. Instead, he suggests something else that may be more profound for the organization.

Now I do believe in understanding what you are trying to accomplish. But is it really that difficult? If you are a business, you are striving to provide a great product or serve the customer while keeping expenses lower than cost. If you are a church, you are striving to develop committed disciples of Jesus.

Oh, you may get fancy on how you say it. It may take a long weekend, or maybe even six months of weekends, to create a fancy paragraph saying basically the same thing. May I suggest another avenue? Dilbert's Mission Statement Generator can do all that for you within a couple of seconds. Here is the one that it generated for me:

We exist to seamlessly supply low-risk high-yield meta-services and collaboratively maintain resource-leveling catalysts for change.
It works as well as many that I've seen. The What and How are the real issue, and they should be examined often since it can and should change.

Here is what Guy Kawasaki says that is even better than a mission statement: a Mantra. Why? Easy to remember, gives a picture of what we are about. A good example? FedEx = "Peace of Mind". What are some great Mantras that you have seen or heard that give a wonderful picture of what the organization is striving for?

In reality, the tough questions are: 1) Are people commiteed to our mission; 2) What are we doing well right now to accomplish our mission; and 3) What are the opportunities available to us in the near future. Those are the six months worth of weekends.

As for number 1, people have to know what the mission is in order to be committed to it, so you do have to make it readily apparent. You would think this would be a no-brainer in the business world, but it really isn't. People get the notions that the business exists to give them a job, to provide office supplies for their home, to provide a forum for idle chatter about how you hope Sanjaya wins American Idol, etc.

This is why it is important to build a wonderful work culture and a great organization. When I worked for a renown management consulting firm, I didn't have to worry about begging other employees to work harder or remind them that they were getting a pay check for actual work done; if they weren't motivated, there were a hundred people lined up ready to take their job.

I want to work and volunteer with people who are as excited about what they are doing as I am. This isn't always the case, but it should be what we are striving for.

As for number 2, your strengths are what are going to help you accomplish your tasks, so take them seriously. Do them even better next year. And drop everything else (which is really the tough part). If you are not excited about it, why are you doing it? What are the last five parts of the organization that you talk about to people, if you talk about them at all? This should be a group exercise, since one person shouldn't do this alone (I might not be as excited about something, but a majority of others in leadership may be). Northpoint Community Church has a wonderful podcast series called "Practically Speaking" that speaks well to these organizational issues.

As for number 3, I'm amazed at how easy it is to get in a rut and just do what is comfortable. Even for me, and I am one of the few that gets antzy if life looks normal for too long. We need people who can speak into our lives and ask questions, annoying questions that you want to squash like that fly that lingers around and you wonder where it has been cleaning itself off. You need, I need it, we all need it, and then thank the person with the annoying questions. Some people prefer paying people occasionally to ask those questions; I'd suggest just finding someone who likes what you are trying to do and can prod with some skill.

As for number 4, what is it that you think should be THE most important questions that organizations should ask themselves?

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Song Stuck In My Head

Thanks, Wade Hodges, now I'm stuck with it (although I can't complain, it is a great U2 song). Might as well pass it along to you...

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

You Who Are

You who are over us, You who are one of us, You who are also within us, May all see you in me also, May I prepare the way for you, May I thank you for all that shall fall to my lot, May I also not forget the needs of others... Give me a pure heart - that I may see you, A humble heart - that I may hear you, A heart of love - that I may serve you, A heart of faith - that I may abide in you.

--Dag Hammarskjold, 1905-1961
From The Doubleday Prayer Collection, compiled by Mary Batchelor ( New York: Doubleday, 1996, p. 13)

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Dr. Seuss


Some days I just really like Dr. Seuss. My youngest son and I were reading a new (for us) Dr. Seuss book together. The last two pages go like this:

UP! UP! UP! Great day for UP! Wake every person, pig and pup, till EVERYONE on Earth is up! Except for me. Please go away. No up. I'm sleeping in today.

Sometimes that man is a genius.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Review of "Then We Came To The End" by Joshua Ferris

One of my favorite novels is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Heller is incredibly funny and poignant at the same time in what I thought was a completely original and unreproducible style - until now. If someone had told me that Joshua Ferris had written in Heller's style, I would not have picked up the book. But he catches that hilarious and yet dark spirit and does so with the same quest into the human condition but in a completely different battlezone - cubicle land.

The story follows some wonderful (I'm just gushing with adjectives today) characters in an ad agency through its good times and bad times, all of it a struggle. If you have ever worked in an office, you will be caught up in the descriptions of office chatter and politics, the thoughts and emotions of people spending the heart of their lives together and wondering why.

The following paragraphs from the story give a flavor of the asides that are so Heller-like in their description and yet very true:

We told him to get on with it. We liked wasting time, but almost nothing was more annoying than having our wasted time wasted on something not worth wasting it on.
- - - - -
"I don't know," said Joe.

But he did know. He knew just as we knew that she was in surgery that day and would be in recovery when the concepts were due - the difference being that he probably got his information straight from Lynn [the boss], whereas we had to get ours from other sources. We never disliked Joe more than when he had information that we had, too, which he then refused to tell us.


The stories in the book are our stories, and we wonder where our lives are going as we follow the characters to the end. Sometimes our stories are funny, sometimes they are filled with sadness or questions, and they are always filled with tension and struggle.

This book is one of my favorites from the last five years, along with Life of Pi. I'll leave you with one last quote from the book that gives you another picture of the heart of the book:

Just before stepping out of the car, right as she should have been kissing Carl good-bye, Marilynn's cell phone rang. She was an oncologist and always felt obligated to answer the phone in case of emergency. "Hello?" she said. "Go ahead, Susan, I can hear you just fine."

Carl was immediately annoyed. Benny told us that Carl hated the way his wife always reassured people that she could hear them just fine. He hated how she plugged her finger in the opposite ear, effectively shutting out all other noise. And he hated that her other obligations always preempted him. They were just about to say good-bye, for chrissake. Didn't it matter, wasn't it important, their kiss good-bye? The thing he really hated, which he would never admit to her, was how he felt the lesser of the two of them for having no obligation that could compare with hers, which he might use to preempt
her. She had people calling about patients who were dying. Let's face it, there was zero chance one of us would call Carl with a question of mortal urgency. Whatever question we might have for Carl, it could wait until we ran into him in the hall the next day. That made Carl feel that his wife's job was more meaningful than his own; and, because of his particular way of thinking at the time, that she was therefore more meaningful. Carl's thoughts were dark, man. It didn't make for an easy marriage. If only you heard the fragments of phone conversations we sometimes overheard when passing Carl's office.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

TMNT and a Myth

This weekend the family and I went to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the drive-in theatre. We had a good time, but it had me pondering about the use of violence as the best weapon against evil.

Before I get all theoretical and critical, I do want to admit that we had a splendid evening. The movie wasn't a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but the kids had fun sitting in the back of our van and in chairs outside on a nice evening watching a movie. Good times.

But with the recent hit movies out, 300 and TMNT, violence is the means to overcome problems with our neighbors, even if they are a bit cranky and overbearing like threatening death if you don't bow down.

So what do you do if you are the good guys? Well, you fight back with superior force until they act the way that you want them to act, or, if that fails, you destroy them. Of course it's legit - we are the good guys! Of course, "good guys" meaning in the realistic sense those that are on the same team as you are.

The movies do have a heavy dose of let's-work-as-a-team and we can overcome all obstacles. Now, I am a strong believer in teams but let's face it: you can't overcome all obstacles just because you are a team. You also need to work out and become all muscle-y so that we can pulverize people together.

The cost of the myth of redemptive violence is heavy. You must be absolutely sure that you are in the right, whatever that might mean to you, and the fight with your conscious when it means destruction of people, including casualties. You must ensure means that the other people will act forever as you wish them to behave because let's get one thing clear - you won't change their hatred for you. Their retaliation will only escalate if they believe in redemptive violence as well. It never ends.

The cost may also be yourself and your people. I was amazed after we saw 300 at the non-reaction to the destruction of babies that did not meet the standards of maintaining the ability of heightened physical violence. Can anyone say "Hitler"? Hello! I have not seen anyone flinch at the scenes of kids beating on their brothers in the name of becoming stronger. Personally, that was the saddest moment of the movie for me.

But we overlook all that when we see Bravery. I love seeing people go against great odds. I long to be the one who stands up with others to say, We will not stand for this, it is not right. The emotional impact of watching heroes - people who stand up for what they believe or who fight for others - can catch you up. But to do that with the threat of physical Power shows a lack of imagination and bears a cost. Is there another way?

While I was in DC, there was a pastor at a local church that I had the opportunity to attend a function with. He told about the time when he attended a presidential luncheon with other church leaders with President Clinton. During the luncheon, if I remember correctly, there was a guest speaker. This lady needed a box to stand on to be able to reach the microphone. When she did, she lambasted the President and the country for their views on abortion. No one said a word, including the most powerful man man on earth. They didn't cuff her, they didn't shoot her when she got outside. She just finished and went back to her seat. Mother Teresa wielded real Power.

Real Power lies in not forcing behavior on people, but changing their hearts, beliefs, and values so that the behavior comes from within. And that takes Bravery and Imagination.

What are some of the problems that you see in your community? Maybe we could talk together, maybe even use some teamwork, to come up with non-violent means of confronting these issues.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Stories We Meet

I was up late on night recently finishing up some work on a class and I wanted to get out of the house, so I went to Denny's since it is open 24/7. I was finishing up and the young lady who had been serving was doing a great job and I let her know. While we were chatting, I asked if she always worked the night shift.

She said, "No, just on the weekend. I go to school during the week."

"You go to school during the week?" It was one of those I'm struggling to get this in my mind so I'll ask a stupid question or just repeat what you already told me moments. Changing your sleeping pattern from night to day is difficult, and she just told me that she doesn't really do that. She just pulls all-nighters on the weekend so that she can work. I'm still wowed by that.

She continues on, nicely filling in for my dumb question, "Yeah, I'm only 17 and haven't finished high school so I work on the weekends. This way I can get more hours in."

I asked her what she wanted to do when she graduates. She told me that she is thinking about business, and definitely wants to travel. I told her that there are lots of good business jobs that have traveling, and told her of some friends who traveled a lot for their jobs. We talked on for a few more minutes since it was relatively slow that night.

Anyway, she cheered me up. Here is a nice, hard-working young lady who isn't angry that she's up late working - she was friendly and was doing a fantastic job at her workplace. I left her a tip that was triple my bill and wished that I could afford to give her more.

As your story overlaps the story of someone else, that intersection will be colored and developed. Those intersections happen all the time, most of it with little thought. To paint a few brush strokes of bright and lively colors on the canvas of life is not a bad way to go about living.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

More strange questions

I was stumped again with a question that I was totally not expecting. This time it came from my four-year-old, and it probably happens all the time except this time I was actually paying attention.

We were driving home from lunch today when he asked me, "What is bait for kangaroos?"

I had to admit that I wasn't quite sure. I don't know what or where to find one close enough to try. After a little prompting to find out why he was asking, I heard about the trap my kids had set up in the back yard to try and catch the rabbit. It was one of those boxes held up with a stick tied to string with bait inside.

I hope they catch something, just smaller than a kangaroo. Although that would be pretty exciting...

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Confession

To do this, I have to review a blog that is reviewing a book. You get a first-hand response to a second-hand observation.

Scot McKnight is reviewing Daryl Tippen's (from Pepperdine U.) book Pilgrim Heart, which discusses confession as a discipline. Since I recently wrote about this, it is one of those lingering electrical sparks that has been zipping back and forth between lobes of my brain.

Check out these three claims:

“the Christian community’s demand for respectability often increases the dishonesty” of not confessing

and

“A Christian who is not confessional is in peril”

and

“An unconfessed Christian is an oxymoron” (100)

I like it when somebody lays the smackdown like that. I hope that you can take these phrases to your version of the Christian watercooler and while you are standing there, you say to the next person that walks by, "Hey, guess what I heard today: _______. Can you believe someone said that? What do you think about that?" Or even take it to the secular watercooler; they might be just as fascinated with someone taking it strong to Christians.

At least I hope one or more of those phrases gets under your skin.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Solemn as what?


I saw the phrase "solemn as churchgoers" in a fiction book that I was reading and it has bothered me for the last couple of days (the phrase not the book; actually, the book is quite fun and I'll review it next week).

I can certainly see why the phrase has come about. Often, the only times many non-churchgoers ever enter a church is for weddings and funerals, and in the middle of both the mood can be quite similar - solemn, I am referring to.

Or maybe the picture some churchavoiders have is of the manic preacher breathing fire and brimstone (and spittle on the front row) on the people in the pews while they sit there and grimace. This is followed by rows of weeping people making their way to the front in fear.

And in times leading up to today, many churchgoers have enjoyed the times of solemnity and austerity. Certainly, the subject of Christianity has its talk of death and a cross and suffering, which isn't a time for knock-knock jokes.

But the "solemn" in the "solemn as church goers" is not meant by many as a compliment, as some might take it. I believe it is meant as "mirthless" rather than "causing serious thoughts". And in that case, I have a problem.

After all, aren't we the people of Sunday, the people of Easter? Aren't we the people of the Good News? If we have difficulty embodying it, it should at least be sitting on the tips of our tongues.

If churchgoers are the non-complimentary solemn-ers, then no wonder people aren't all that interested. Is that what heaven is supposed to be like? No wonder people say they will take their chances.

You want to know what I think the real problem is? I'll pretend like you do. It's a lack of Joy. Real Joy. Not the detergent type, not the "smile as I walk in the door" type. We've lost it. Our houses are so cluttered that it's sitting under something, but we have to dig through all our stuff to find it and we just don't have time or we just pile on something else hoping another Joy will come around.

We watched the documentary The Devil's Playground last night. It's about Amish kids when they turn 16, no longer have to do as they parents' want, and get to do whatever they want - and boy do they go crazy! Although, of course, they probably learn most of this from their "English" friends - a few of whom we meet in the film.

Now, I'm not saying we should all join the Amish church or way of life. But here is something fascinating - they have one of the highest retention rates (teens deciding to join the faith) these days than they ever have! I seriously doubt many church denominations or non-denominational groups have retention rates that are as close. You'll have to watch the film to see what you think.

My own hypothesis as to why - there is a contrast between the lifestyles. It is easy to "see" a difference between being "English" (normal American culture) and being "Amish".

I just don't know that we, the churchgoers, do a good enough job of making the Joy evident in our everyday lives. I just don't know if we feel it. I want people to see Christians as heavengoers, and that is the Best News that they could hear.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Strange questions

I was sitting at lunch today by myself while reading a book when a college student asked me, "Are you the prize monkey?" I said, "I'm not quite sure I know what you are talking about." (The day might have been even stranger if I had.) He replied, "I heard that the prize monkey was sitting alone somewhere near here." The only response I could think of at the moment was, "I don't think I'm the prize monkey."

Anybody beat that for "strange question of the day"? I can think of plenty of good responses now; how about you?

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

When the room gets quiet

I was with four people in a room the other day while we were waiting for a store manager. There was a little conversation going on here and there, but after a few minutes of this the room got quiet when the surface conversations went dry - the dreaded lull in the conversation. One girl got visibly nervous and finally asked, "So is someone going to say something?!"

Someone finally asked her a question that would not have usually engaged a drone but the silence was heavy and she was happy to fill it, even with prattle. It was fascinating to watch.

She, and this is not picking on the female sex (it just happened to be that way in that room), probably would have answered a question that involved random words or maybe even something like, "So, what do you think about the source of the space time continuum?" She just wanted (honestly making a huge assumption about someone's motivations, just go with me or even disagree with me) noise to be filling the air and connections to be made, regardless of the tenuity of the resulting babble.

What is it that makes silence so frightful? Is it an indication of the cynical bent that if someone isn't saying something nice, they must be thinking something wrong? Is it a fear that I might start thinking things and who knows where that may go? Is it that the constant noise that is usually around us creates an environment in which golden silence is more like copper dead air?

I'm actually one of those people right in the middle of the I/E personality composition. I enjoy parties and big crowds and can hop into conversations with complete strangers and have a blast. At the same time, I need times of aloneness and non-talk, so that moment of quiet in the room didn't bother me a bit.

So fill me in, oh yea of glad speaking, on why you think silence can be tough to take...

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Monday, March 19, 2007

What is it worth?

Interesting idea for this restaurant. I've also read somewhere, I wish I could remember where, of a man who sold bagels at workplaces and used the honor system, which is not quite the same but has the similar characteristic of trusting people to sacrifice for something that they use.

What if that was in place for other things as well? What if we just gave in taxes what we thought our government services was worth? Lots of interesting ramifications - and how you see the future probably depends on what you think about human nature. Would you see anarchy or would you see a more genteel society?

There is some aspect of paying for what you think things are worth for most objects and services - if you don't want what they are offering, offer less or don't get it. I read an article on one of my many travels lately on American Airlines about a man who will negotiate for you.

Personally, I don't think we, "we" as in representing people who buy things, don't spend enough time thinking about the true value of stuff. I guess that is obvious, but what that really means is that we stop buying things, at least so quickly, and come up with a process of determining long-term value to our lives.

So, good reader, how do you think we could do that? Should we consult someone on any purchase over a quarter? How do you determine the true value of something in how much it adds to your life?

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Sledding


We went sledding over our spring break, as you can see in this picture of my brother, sister, and I heading down a pretty steep hill.

What is it that makes sledding fun? You hop on a small, uncomfortable little disc or rectangular plastic sled at the top of a hill and then careen out of control and if you are lucky you are mostly facing downhill. You get snow flying everywhere, including in your face and up the back of your sweater (as can be seen at the bottom of this picture). One time down the hill my daughter and I were going so fast and so out of control that we went past the snow and ended up in mud.

But as you can tell, for some reason this out-of-control I'm going way too fast feeling has us smiling and laughing. Sometimes it feels good to just let go and see where the hill will take you...

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Fear

I'm on spring break (the reason for the lull in blogs) with my family in the mountains of New Mexico; and when I say family, we have a loaded house here. We went skiing yesterday, and in days of the past, skiing and fear were two words that would not be seen in the same post.

When I was younger, there truly were few things that I was afraid to try, as my high school skiing buddies could attest. I wasn't all that great, but that wouldn't stop me from racing them down the mountain or flying off a ledge. We would stop at the top of a slope, they would point out a jump and dare me to try something. They knew that I would never turn them down.

That has resulted in some tremendous crashes and occasionally a pretty amazing feat. But it was all different Tuesday as I was on the ski slopes with my family. I hadn't been skiing in several years, and I took it easy. I saw a few jumps and went around them. There were some spots where I could pick up a lot of speed and I slowed down.

So it is that I'm just getting old? I suppose that is part of it. I've experienced hurt and pain. I've had several surgeries on body parts and I know that it could happen again. Getting up after falling down just isn't as easy as it used to be.

I'm really not that old, so coming to this realization is hard. I fear the next morning after I have taken a couple of hard falls. I fear landing wrong and going through rehab for six months. I now have fear when I watch my kids and hope that they have a little more trepidation (but still have chutzpah) than I did going down the slopes of life.

My oldest son actually had a bad fall on the slopes and sprained his knee. The swelling will go down in a couple of days and he is already up and playing in the backyard, but it just drags up the fear that I have of the future.

What is my fear? Potential pain and lost opportunity.

There is a good part to this fear - it helps me to relish other moments. I try to drink in the hugs that I get from my kids. I try to think "this is good" when my wife and I share our thoughts and hearts. I love having a good laugh and experiences with my friends. These become the glue in my life in the face of fear and brokenness. I just hope that the strength of the cherished moments are strong enough to help me overcome the fears when I need to be brave.

So tell me, friends, how do you know the difference between a good fear and a bad one?

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Learning

Yesterday I went early to the elementary school where I was subbing. I was filling in for a kindergarten teacher. I actually like subbing for elementary teachers - you get to be there all day with the kids and actually try to teach them something. In high school, you are usually handing them busy work for an hour and then they are out the door.

The school was in a Hispanic part of town, so I didn't think anything about the English and Spanish words covering the walls. I was quite stunned, though, when the teacher's directions were for me to work with the students using the Spanish language books. I don't speak Spanish (other than "si" and "no", kind of like saying I know Japanese because I can say "karate").

To keep it short, I had a good day. I told the kids they were going to have to help me and they did. I tried reading through the kids book using Spanish, and they had great fun yelling out the correct pronunciation when I would miss one or two a page. There was no doubt that I learned far more Spanish yesterday than I taught them English.

It is true: you can learn from anyone if you want to. Those very young students were great teachers.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Medicine and Traveling

We have traveled more in the past three months than I have in at least a decade, when I was a real business person. You know, I don't really mind traveling. Our kids are at an age, when they travel with us (about half the time lately), where they pretty much take care of themselves. I don't have a fear of traveling - check that, I have fears of what will happen to our luggage, fears of traveling with the flu, etc., just not a fear of the plane taking a nose-dive.

My only problem is when the our means of traveling are dipsy-doodling around.

I have motion sickness. Stupid kinetosis. When things get bumpy or lurchy, my head gets funny and if that doesn't stop soon, my stomach gets not-so-funny. According to Wikipedia, the encyclopedic source of people's best guesses, nausea actually means seasickness; although for some strange reason I never get motion sick or nausea on a boat. But I digress.

At the onset, I'll do the usual of trying to look out the window, which might get annoying if I'm sitting in the middle aisle of the plane and leaning over two other people to see out that tiny window that mostly shows me the wing or engine. Usually that will keep it at bay, or maybe I'll get lucky and be sleepy and then just drool on the person next to me with my head on their shoulder.

But when I really need to, or if I'm on one of the puddle jumpers, I'll take medicine. The only problem is, after popping a couple of Dramamines, I'm never quite sure what will happen.

I'll probably stop being motion sick. That's the good news. The bad news is I'm one of those people that medicine pops a big wallup. Not just medicine, any chemical has a big impact on my system. I can drink a glass of tea with dinner and it'll keep me up later. Decaff coffee will make me bouncy. So when I take something that may cause drowsiness, most of the time it will leave me lying on the floor within minutes. My wife hates it when I take Dramamine on those short planes because they may be only 45 minutes long, but the Dramamine will put me out for an hour and a half. The plane will be landing, she will be punching me trying to wake me up, and I'll be saying something like, "Leave me alone, Mom, just ten more minutes before school starts."

But it doesn't always happen like that. Sometimes I get strange side effects. Sometimes the medicines will do the exact opposite, like keep me awake for days. I was taking some heavy meds when I had my shoulder surgery, and I didn't sleep for 3-5 days and can't remember most of what happened. My wife said I was giggling and flirting with the nurses on the way out of the doctor's office.

So we get on a plane not too long ago and I pop a couple of Dramamines 'cause the ride over to the airport wasn't so smooth. I do so about ten minutes before we board and it was perfect timing - I got in my seat and almost instantly was asleep. Perfect, for the first half hour. Then for some reason I pop up, wide awake. Within minutes, my legs and feet start to itch and shake. It was the second worse plane ride I had been on in the last couple of years. I was shaking my legs into the aisle, kicking under the seat, and was just generally squirming for several more hours; it just made me hate those first class travelers all the more - I could be squirming without hitting my shins into the seat in front of me. My four year old thought it was pretty funny.

That's why I generally avoid medication. Who knows what something like the diet pill would do to me.

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Review of "Cultivating A Life For God" by Neil Cole, part 2 of 2

The real topic of Neil Cole's book - confession, rather than discipleship - is something I believe many people are longing for but are scared to death of. I believe that you can see this in the popularity of places such as PostSecret, where people create postcards that are indicative of the secrets that they anonymously mail in.

The PostSecret website picturing the postcards is fascinating. The creator eventually puts enough of the confessional postcards into a book and then goes to signings, where you look around and wonder who wrote what.

Reading the postcards is a surreal experience. You know real, next-door people (maybe even yourself) think those thoughts and have gone through those experiences, but we just don't talk about them. Period. Not in polite company, not in rough company, and especially not to people we are close to. Rather, perfect strangers are preferred in an anonymous setting.

Are confessions really necessary? Can't we get by without them? I suppose so, since millions probably do. But are we truly a community that loves each other if we can't share our problems? That seems more like a community that is friendly as long as I don't have to really expend much energy or compassion.

Here is a confession: there are times when I'd rather see your fake smile than really know what is going on. I think my biggest fear isn't that I'd have to take time off from watching TV to help you (Survivor really isn't that great), it's that I would feel the need to reciprocate and tell you my own problems.

But the healing that could happen! How wonderful it would be to be able to tell people of my struggles, of my broken past, and know that they would love me fully! The monkey removed, the struggle is shared, and real growth could happen.

Where has the church been? Why aren't people making these same confessions in the context of the body of Christ, where forgiveness is supposed to be complete?

Gossip. Condemnation. Feeling like you are a zoo animal.

So, instead, we have anonymous boxes hiding our identity to Catholic priests, we have websites such as mysecret.tv which is basically the same as PostSecret but endorsed by a church.

I appreciate Lifechurch.tv for at least making an effort, just don't quote the verse from James when you allow anonymous confessions. In real community, you confess your sins and problems and cares to each other, not to an electronic priest. Otherwise you may feel good for a few minutes, but you miss out on the purpose - community and growth. James says the purpose of the confession to each other, not privately to God, not privately to the internet, is so that we can take care of each other, pray for the other person, and help us to get over and through it.

Thus comes Cole's book, saying let's do it, people are craving it. He suggests groups the size of two or three people. I would add "who you can trust or build a trust" but he doesn't seem to necessarily think that is necessary. He has examples of adding people in within weeks, and in one scenario he talks about people being added to the group and multiple groups forming within one setting. I have to wonder if trust and confession isn't being trampled on at that point.

I love the idea of the groups and I think they are for everyone who has ever sinned. I love his advice about having it spread as a grassroots movement rather than as a program. My own inclination would be to focus the purpose; Cole seems to stress the groups more as a Bible study and evangelism tool than as a confession and healing tool. But here is another confession: I haven't started one yet, but I plan on it. Maybe then I'll have a little better perspective.

You lucked out - I won't post my confessions on this blog.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Where The Sidewalk Ends

This poem fascinates me. You might have seen it before. Read it again.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

"The Darkroom Search" - Is love blind?

I'm trying to get my act together this week, so in the meantime enjoy this story from Soren Kierkegaard. What do you think about his question? I think it is a great comment on how we see relationships.

They say that love makes blind, and by this they explain the phenomenon. In case a man going into a dark room to fetch something were to reply to my advice that he carry a light by saying, "The thing I am seeking is only a trifle, therefore I carry no light" - ah, then I could understand him perfectly. On the other hand, when the same man takes me aside and confides in me a mysterious manner that the thing he went to fetch was of the utmost importance, and therefore he could do it blindly - ah, I wonder how my poor mortal head might be able to follow the high flight of this speech. Even if for fear of offending him I might refrain from laughter, as soon as his back was turned I could not help laughing. But at love nobody laughs.

(The Young Man in Stages on Life's Way, p. 51)

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Lent, 2007 - The Theology of the Void

This is the first year our family has done anything for Lent, but we thought it would be a great exercise in discipline and reflection.

My oldest son, Jonathan, and I are choosing to drink only water and milk, which has already been tough. I had a caffeine headache all day yesterday and this morning and kept thinking "You know, a large glass of sweet tea would be mighty fine right now". My daughter, Autumn, and wife, Nancy, have given up sweets and desserts. Autumn has already told me that it has been really hard because the teacher at school hands out little treats as rewards.

We had our kids do research on fasting a couple of nights ago, and Nancy and I told our kids the night before it started that whenever we think of these material things that we are giving up that we are instead supposed to think of Christ and how he is even more important.

It has been a great topic of discussion in our family, and you know what? I need to be weaned from these material things as much as anyone else in our family. I love that I have this constant "Christ is all I need" running through the back of my painful head. I hate that I had a headache, but the pain strangely makes it all the more real.

Anyone else giving anything up for Lent? What kind of reflection has the void caused?

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Review of "Cultivating A Life For God" by Neil Cole, part 1 of 2

The subject of this book has been on my mind for a while, so I was excited to dive into this book once I knew more of what it was about. This may be one of those Christian practices that is somehow overlooked yet is instrumental for transformation and depth.

The book says that it is about discipling, and I applaud Cole for getting practical about what he calls our "prime directive" - the Great Commission to make disciples. Cole lays out a plan for groups comprised of two to three people that meet in order to confess and read scripture. Once a fourth person is added to the group, within a couple of weeks the group should then split into two groups of two people to keep it small. Cole's belief is that these types of groups will continue to expand out.

In another Cole book that I have read, I haven't found him to be the deepest theologian around (and he is admittedly a more practical focused person), but I thought he did a better job in this book and was especially interested in his exegesis of the blind man in the gospel of John. But the heart of the book is the functional plan and resources for starting these groups.

A couple of critiques and then we'll hit my discipline of recent fascination: I think discipling is more than mutual accountability. Discipling to me seems to imply more of a role-model intimacy, or mentoring/coaching to use more modern lingo, where one person in the relationship is living life in a certain way that the other person wants to learn, and does so through following and questioning. That doesn't seem to be what Cole is advocating.

A different criticism is that it seems through the overall language and implications is that the goal of these groups is multiplication of these groups, which will bring into them people outside of the faith; i.e., these accountability groups are for the main purpose of evangelism. I think that you can do these groups with the purpose of healing and mutual growth without stressing the evangelism aspect. This is just my opinion, but I think when your main point is evangelism a ticking clock forms in your head as to why these groups aren't working if new groups are not springing out all the time. Cole even mentions an example near the back of the book of a young man who had started a group and was disappointed when new groups had not sprung up within a month. What if the group just focused on healing, and invited new people when it seemed natural? Cole probably means this, but he is obviously a gifted evangelist and has a hard time not focusing in that direction.

That said, I love the idea of these groups and think they may be a key to our mile wide and inch deep problem within the church. I agree with Cole that these groups are challenging to where we hold the bar for accountability, yet people want - need? - a place to be free of their sin and baggage.

I would love to go on, but this particular blog is turning into a book. I'll talk more about that and some interesting places found in the secular world that feeds people's longing to be free.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Do Something About This, Part 5

Revolution, by Barna, p. 35. Regarding family faith:

  • A large majority of churched believers rely upon their church, rather than their family, to train their children to become spiritually mature.
  • In an average month, fewer than one out of every ten churched families worships together outside of a church service; just as few pray together, other than at mealtimes; and the same minimal numbers study the Bible together at home or work together to address the needs of disadvantaged people in their community.
  • The likelihood of a married couple who are born-again churchgoers getting divorced is the same as couples who are not disciples of Jesus.
  • Apart from church-based programs, the typical Christian family spends less than three hours per month in endeavors to jointly develop or apply their faith.
  • Most Christian parents do not believe they are dong a good job at facilitating the spiritual development of their children.
What else is there to say? We aren't even helping the people that we spend the most time around. Why?

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Egad!

Have you heard that joke that 99% of lawyers give the rest a bad name? I'm starting to get that feeling about Christians when I read news articles like this one, sent to me by my friend Jeff.

Excluding people who don't fit your standards for how they look on the outside? Please. Funny thing is, I wouldn't be allowed in that pediatrician's office because of my tattoos. I just don't get it. How is the way you look on the outside any indication of the kind of person you are? And even if it did, what about any kind of transformation that could happen afterwards?

What about the people who have the look, I'm assuming a nice trim middle-class look that really doesn't mean much is what he is after, and are not "Christian" on the inside? What if he started to exclude people who were materialistic, who had lied at some point, who had stolen something, who had looked with lust upon anything? He would deserve the patients that were left.

Why exclude anyone? Again, I just don't get it. Take a look at history to see where that path has led - excluding people based on their looks or skin color. Please, let's not go there again. Not only is it immoral, it certainly isn't the way of Christ. That person has lost his effectiveness to love a broken world, and has made it that much harder for those of us who want to.

True story: on a Saturday evening I was talking to some graduate friends about Christians who seem to think that if you don't look like a good American then you haven't made it to the top tier of Christianity. (Nothing against America, I love living here, and we have decided to make it our missional home. But God's kingdom knows no man-made boundaries.) The next day, Sunday morning, I was filling in for the preacher at a church outside of town. I met an older man who wasn't too impressed with my looks. During graduate school I decided to grow my hair longer. When I introduced myself to him, instead of saying "Howdy" or some other nice greeting, he just said, "Son, you need to get a haircut." I was a little annoyed, but I was the visiting preacher and so I didn't say anything. Except then he went on to tell me how people with long hair and tattoos need to get cleaned up before they can go to church. "Really," I said.

Here is where it got interesting. He went on to tell me:

People are like cows; some cows are bred better than other cows. Take, for instance, people in these other nations that are always fighting and we Americans are having to come in and fix it.
I was rather stunned at this point. I mentioned that Christ said that we are to love everyone. His response:
I know we are supposed to love everyone spiritually. But I don't think these people can be Christians. They just aren't bred well enough.
I said that it was a good thing that God didn't think that way, and his ancestors were at one time heathens. He said something else, but I excused myself before I really lost it. One of my angrier moments as a preacher. Next week I had a sermon on the Holy Spirit binding everyone together in love - he left early.

I know there are a lot of bigoted people claiming to follow Christ, and maybe some of them are seriously working through their issues much as I do on other things; but to see someone proclaim it so blatantly stunned me. Might as well have a sign on the door saying "No admittance for Christians who don't look like this".

My personal conviction: people like this wouldn't allow Jesus in the door because he would need to clean up his act and hang out with the right people. More "Christians" casting stones.

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Movie Recommendation

I probably won't make many movie recommendations, it is just hard to do so these days. But we just watched "Born Into Brothels" - see it. I want to write more but it is just hard to put into words right now.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

The Untouched Food

Enjoy this story from Soren Kierkegaard:

What is the difference between faith and the profession of faith? (The Gospel of Suffering, pp. 141-42)

If there was a certain kind of food, an article of food which, for one reason or another, had such significance for a man that it was completely tied up with his most intimate feelings (we may imagine a national dish, or a food which has religious significance), and as a result of this it was impossible for him to remain silent if this food was scoffed at or even referred to disparagingly: then it would be natural that, if this happened in his presence, he would admit and confess his own emotions.

But let us imagine the relationship somewhat altered. We imagine this man gathered in company with several others, and this food is set before them. When it is offered them, each of the guests says personally: "This is the most excellent and precious of all foods." Certainly, if that man of whom we are speaking discovers with astonishment, or believes that he discovers, that the guests do not eat of this dish, that they leave it untouched, that they confine themselves to other foods, while they still say that the food is the most excellent and precious: is the man in that case required to acknowledge his own conviction? There is no one indeed who contradicts him, no one who says anything other than what he says.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Changes

I'm trying a few things out with the blog. Maybe you've noticed the different look; sometimes you just need to move things around to find out what you really like and appreciate. Maybe you've noticed the map - I like that it will show where people are visiting from, starting yesterday.

But, as usual when changing things around, something is bound to go haywire (does anyone know what that phrase actually means?).

The expanded posts went crazy like my 4 year old after 5 cookies and lemonade, dancing in all kinds of places that I wasn't expecting. I think I have it fixed, but I'm sure something else will be wacky before too long.

Changes always seem to bring some problems, or on the positive side I suppose you could say that it just brings fresh perspectives on what had become stale. I thought that an interesting practice may be to think about what questions you should ask when going through changes. A few might be:

  • What new opportunities are presented with these changes?
  • How could these changes help me become a better person?
  • What are some blessings in my life that I can now see with more clarity?
Obviously, I'm taking the angle of looking at the changes in a positive way. Difficulty comes when trying to assess a value, so I generally believe that one should look at changes in terms of character and relationships.

So what questions would you ask? Tell me what you have seen when making changes in your life...

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