Monday, October 31, 2005

in a strange land

Insights are endless and thoughts are exploding,
dear God, I'm so lonesome and I don't know why.

I sometimes (often?) wake with a lyric in my mind that seems to come out of nowhere. Usually it doesn’t come out of nowhere, because there is a connection to something, but the connection doesn’t always fit my mood, or frame of mind. Often I'm given the lyric before I realize that it will help me when I discover what my frame of mind is, or that I need it to face something that is not yet.
This morning’s frame of mind was one of contemplation of a reluctant return to normalcy, the abandonment of which I so eagerly embraced as Al and I boarded the plane to Dallas on Friday, U2 tics in hand. Though reluctant to return, I began to think about the morning traffic to the airport in a strange and sprawling city, the return of the rental car, the hopping shuttles to terminals, the check-in, security, etc., and quietly wished I could just blink my eyes like J.R.’s bottled companion used to do before he moved to Dallas, and find myself back at home.
As it turns out, everything I was responsible for this morning went down without a hitch. I got us to the airport, returned the car, secured our boarding passes, checked our bag, strode through security, secured a cup of Sumatra and relaxed to await our flight. But no sooner had we reached the shelter of the terminal, than a mighty storm attacked D/FW, and relentlessly pummeled the area until they had to close the airport for a while. First the flight was delayed by 50 minutes, then an hour, then… The gate was changed 5 times before they actually changed the terminal so that we had to hurry onto the skylink train to find the other terminal, just in time to wait yet another hour to board. All the while, this morning’s lyric is ringing in my head, and becoming more fully formed throughout the day as more lines find their way from the recesses of my memory.
We did finally board at 3:00pm, 4 hours after our plane was to have taken off, and 30 minutes after we were to have landed in Charlotte. By now, we’re all exhausted, and ready to relax on the plane for the ride home. But once we boarded, we learned that since the whole airport had been closed, the fuelers were backed up and we’d have to wait to be fueled. Once fueled, we had to wait some time for a push back, and once pushed back, we taxied out to wait in a four-lane, mile-long line of planes waiting to take off. Though the weather had left the area, it had gone ahead to where we were heading, and all the planes would have to be spaced so as to follow the few routes open through the storms. So, we waited 2 and a half hours on the tarmac to actually take off.
Originally thinking we’d be home by 4:00pm, we had no plans for the care of the kids for the evening and actually had some evening responsibilities of our own. So Allison worked frantically to contact friends to help us with our kids as they came home from school, and prepared to survive the evening. All from a thousand miles away. I am now well aware that when I go to Texas, dreadful things happen upon the return.
The lyric played loudly in my head, “I can’t get back home again.”
As we sat on the plane on the tarmac, my brother called to tell me that he’d just left the hospital and that my uncle Bill was not expected to make it through the day. My heart sank, as I sat totally captive and helpless, a stranger in a strange land, if you’ll pardon the serious reference. Unable to care for my children, alone, a thousands miles away, unable to comfort my people a thousand different miles away. Suddenly I no longer knew where home was, only that I was not there.
Eventually, by predetermined plans, we arrived in Charlotte, and made our way toward Columbia. I talked to Jack one last time before he retired, and Al and I stopped at Waffle House for the first food since a muffin 13 hours ago. Allison reminisced that the first time she’d eaten at Waffle House was 17 years ago as we made our way from Pennsylvania toward Columbia. “Can you believe it’s been 17 years?” That’s nearly as long as either of us has lived in one place. Allison said that it’s beginning to feel like home. I said, “until someone is dying.” There was a tremendous confusion of place.
At that moment, I knew that I would not make it home tonight.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

connecting some more

We had all day to anything or nothing, whichever won the battle of “whatya wanna do?” “I dunno, whatchoo wanna do?”.
I woke quite a while before Allison and decided to let her sleep, so I alternated between roaming about the room and climbing back in bed. When she finally woke up, we couldn’t figure out which of the clocks were right, but eventually were delighted to realize that the earlier time was correct.
We decided to take a trek down to Austin for a short visit to the Abbey and hello to soul friends, and the possibility for the Elvis Fried Chicken. We were greeted with extremely sad and disturbing and frankly, anger inducing news that Kyle Lake, the pastor at UBC, Waco had been electrocuted a few hours earlier while performing a baptism.
After the Elvis chicken, we participated in some of the Sunday evening Abbey activity, in a rather emotionally disrupted atmosphere, and said our goodbyes, for the drive back to Dallas.
On the way home, we entirely unintentionally stopped at the same two exits we’d visited on the way down – something we always seem to do, no matter where we’re going or from whence we’ve come.


Saturday, October 29, 2005

yet another set list

City of Blinding Lights
Electric Co.
The Ocean
I Still Haven’t Found
Beautiful Day
Miracle Drug
Sometimes you can’t make it on your own
Love and Peace or Else
Sunday Bloody Sunday
Bullet The Blue Sky
Miss Sarajevo

Pride in the Name of Love
Where the Streets have no Name

The First Time
Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of
Angel Of Harlem
With or Without You
(old man river)

All Because of You



This morning, I looked at a map and figured we couldn't be more than ten minutes from the Margraves, (gypsy traveler, and Bruce, the Bruce), so we called Chris to see if he knew what they were up to. Chris called them to make sure they were home and then kept them on the phone so they'd not run off while we make our way to their house. Bruce answered the door because famil was talking to Chris on the phone. They seemed aptly impressed that Chris could talk about nonsense for long enough for us to get there, but that's really not that impressive if you've ever read Chris's blog. They took us out for Indian, and we spent the next 2.5 hours relaxed in conversation.
Allison and I found a mall, bought some new skinny clothes for her, and headed to the American Airlines Center.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

city of blinding lights

I’m in the air again, this time with Allison beside me. She’s asleep, of course. She did stay awake all the way to the airport though, which is no small task considering it was a 90 minute drive. We’re descending from 32,000 feet preparing to land at DFW. The lighted excited below is sprawling.
This trip is for entirely different noble reasons than my last trip. This is a selfish getaway to be with Allison without all the cares of normal life. Nothing will be normal this weekend. No meals to prepare. No taxi service to friends’ houses. No Saturday night labor, Sunday morning delivery, or post-partum depression.
We land at 9:00pm, and until noon on Monday, we’re free from responsibility, except to each other. Tomorrow we’ll sleep LATE and be lazy all afternoon. We’ll eat some supper at Chuy’s and head to the American Airlines Arena to see U2. Please make your jealous remarks in the comment box.
We’ve been planning this trip for a long, long time, and you wouldn’t believe the obstacles that have been tossed in our path to keep it from happening. But we’re airborne, and for now, that feels promising.
Yesterday was a panic to secure a logistical nightmare of collapsed childcare plans and try to see that our progeny were cared for and didn’t feel abandoned. Last night was a mad dash to try to make the house look like hurricane gamma hadn’t come through. Today at work, my students tried to distract me by singing every U2 song you can imagine under their breath or blatantly out loud.
But we’re almost there. Still gotta get a car, find our hotel and get giddy about the concert.


One red and one white

I’m sure that I’ve talked about this in the past, but I grew up in NL territory, and I’ve lived most of my life in NL territory. The only exception would be the first two years I was married and lived 70 miles from Baltimore. But even then, I was equidistant between Pittsburgh and Philly. So all that it is to say that I’ve always been a fan of NL teams. Cincinnati when I was a kid and Pittsburgh when I was in college. I’ve had AL players as heroes along the way, as my students can attest to the Brooks Robinson shrine in my office, complete with autographed photo to “Mr. Lewis”.
Anyway, besides geographic proximity, and thus, probability of seeing live games, my NL preference is strengthened by the DH. I am not a fan of the DH.
All that it is to say that it is quite unfair that in my adult years, the AL seems to have nearly monopolized the world series. That is mainly a problem when your own team has won the pennant. But in general, it is just sad for the NL.
There are always exceptions to the sadness though. So break out the only two AL ball caps I’ve ever owned. Back in the early nineties I decided that in order to have any October happiness, one just might have at least to be fond of an AL team. I sensed a bleached bright future for the White Sox and so got myself a cap. My BoSox cap came a few years later. The thought that either of these was the choice of a fan desiring a winning team was laughable. But not anymore.
Back in 1917, the winning sox were white, in 1918, they were red, complete with Babe Ruth pitching game 7. In 2004 and 05, the order is reversed, but what are the chances of that? Oh, I guess it’s no big deal. I’m always looking for silly connections like that. So how about this: Cubs haven’t won since 1908. How about next year? Then we could bring it back to the NL.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

unbloggable ramblation

The pressure is just too great SP!
Actually, in the heat of preparation for huge events this week, my mind has been camped in a couple of specific areas. I’m really not sure if these thoughts as I am thinking them, are bloggable. However, the immediate huge event is that I’ve been consumed with being ready for this morning’s chapel, and in my consumption, my mind has been wrapped around the story I’d planned to tell with that chapel. It occurs to me that my concept for chapel was also unchapelable. But maybe I pulled it off.
I wonder if preachers’ sermons are born of giant concepts that arrive without form, but with clear understanding in his mind? I wonder if the greatest challenge is finding language to put to the concept that will allow those with ears to hear and be invited into the thinking of the concept.
Today, when I got back to my office, someone said to me, “I think I might have understood most of what you were saying.” Of course, I took this to mean that I still haven’t quite learned to communicate the point of what I’m saying. So I replied, “if you were made to contemplate what you weren’t sure about, then you understood exactly what I was saying.”
My point is to send people away having found themselves in a new context that requires contemplation. I want to make people ask themselves questions. I want us to realize that we haven’t figured out all that we thought we’ve figured out. I want folks to go away thinking, “I’m not really sure what he wanted me to think about that.” Go away thinking about it. I’ll bet you’ll arrive at what you’re supposed to be thinking about.
My main thought point for today’s chapel is not to find parallels, and types in the old testament as precursors to new testament realizations, but to see the whole as a story that is being told in time. The same story, not one that is symbolized BC, and told AD. I want to consider that the story is still being told and that I am a player in it. And as the story is being told, it has very different endings depending on perspectives of the many players. This is a concept that fascinates me.
So didn’t I warn you at the beginning of this post that my thoughts were unbloggable? You have no more from me than you had before I started writing. Sorry. So I’ll leave you with a thought that expresses how the same story could sound so different to two different people. It is a thought that Molly reminded me of early this summer. Paul refers to it when he says that we are the fragrance of Christ and it smells like death to some people and life to others. I used a passage in Exodus today that expresses the same paradox. When Israel was backed up to the Red Sea and Egypt was closing in, the pillar of fire moved in between Israel and Egypt’s advance and held them off. The passage states that all night long, the pillar shined light on Israel and cast darkness on Egypt. It is similar to Paul’s warning’s about participating in the Lord’s Supper. If it doesn’t symbolize life to you, it represents death. But it is more than simply stating that death and life are opposites, it is that the very thing that gives life, if not taken, causes death.
Anyway, I told you it was unbloggable. Maybe in the comments, you can say it better than I did.


Monday, October 24, 2005

winds of change

It was about 67 degrees when I took my purple bike ride on Saturday night. During the night, it got rather cold and Sunday morning the air was brisk, but by the time we left church around noon, it was pretty warm again. I heard someone complaining and saying that they couldn't remember the last time it had stayed so warm for so long. It has been downright hot 'round here.
This morning I had a lot of work to do for Chapel prep for Wednesday, so I stayed home, made a pot of Sperl, put on a sweatshirt and repaired to the deck to get down to business. I was still out there working when Allison got up at 2:00pm and walked out to say hi. She thought it was getting a bit chilly. I walked through the house to see her off, and never went back outside. I stopped off in the kitchen, open my computer and got back to work at the table.
Out the window, I watched the trees become more active and the branches bend and the leaves wave. The clouds came and went and came and went. After about an hour, the kids began to arrive home, and when Molly came to kiss me, I thought she'd freeze my cheek. I went back outside to find the temperature had dropped sharply. Suddenly, it was late October, something that I'd never have been convinced of an hour earlier.
For the first time all year, the windows have been shut to block out the cold rather than the heat. We've been sleeping with the windows open for a couple months now. Not tonight.
An hour of wind and the season changes. Now it is World Series weather. I'm praying the Sox don't go cold.
So I started thinking about a comment I read this summer that said, back in the day, people thought that the wind caused the trees to wave their branches. But now everyone knows its the trees waving that causes the wind. We've become so much wiser. I wondered if the winds had brought in the change of temp, or if the change of temp had stirred up the winds. I wondered if I should sit there on the deck and wait for the wind to move me, or if I should get up and stir the air a bit and feel the winds begin.
Then I realized, if I stop waiting and get up with the intent to stir the wind, it is because the wind has stirred me.


Sunday, October 23, 2005


It used to be a blog post. There used to be fence posts, door posts, Washington Post, Saturday Evening Post, goal post, high post, low post. Then it all started when I was in high school, at either high post or low post, I had to post-up. Do you see the subtle change? Now everything is post-something. The last shall be first.
Just this week, in class, I had to refer to the late 19th century as Post-Romanticism. If I had a nickel for every Post-something I've said, referred to, or heard in the past week, I would be post -retirement. First, I had to submit committee notes, post-haste through the Post Office for Monday's faculty meeting. The entire week, was one in which, back in the day, I'd have felt like I was tied to the whipping post, but these days, it feels more like Post-traumatic stress.
I searched on-line for updates on hurricane Wilma, and found articles in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. I read articles on Post-modernism, Post-Christian America, and even Post-evangelicalism, and heard an NPR spot on Post-Colonialism. Then, just this morning, after eating my Post Toasties (which, btw, used to be called, "Elijah's Manna", and we all know that Elijah could call down fire), on the way to church, a promo on NPR about a show this week called something like, "Our Posthuman Future." We will have microchips implanted in our brains that allow us to communicate with our spouses telepathically. Wifi for your head, I guess. It's not a matter of "if", but "when," said the soothing, but certain voice. Will lost himself in laughter when he heard it. "Dad, did you hear that? POST-HUMAN!!" ha ha ha ha...
I did a google search and found a book.
So if I couple this realization with the fact that I've been talking to a lot of people about my methodology/context concept rants, realize that the blog-post may not be around forever. Could we be on the brink of a post-blog society? Some might say it's not a matter of "if" but "when". I shudder to think about it. I suppose we would adapt and survive, but it is a terrifying prospect. I thought I might not survive Post Cereal. I like cereal. But I've held my ground and continued to live as though I'm in a Cereal Society. I supposed I will just ignore the culture and keep on blog posting.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

a splash of color

Purple on gray. That's what I was tonight. I guess that's what I always am. Tonight it was on the surface though. Gray suit with a purple boutonniere. It shed a whole different timbre to my guitar playing.
When I got home and changed and tried to relax, I decided to take a ride and watch the moon come up. I put on a long sleeved t-shirt and a gray sweatshirt and pinned the purple boutonniere onto the sweatshirt, and rode off into the cool, October darkness. I don't know if tattoos and boutonnieres will become the new fashion statement for bikers, but it sure felt right tonight. Nobody could see me anyway, it was too dark, and I was going way too fast.
I hit highway 6 and wound through the gears into the black horizon until I reached a clearing and could see the moon coming up. She peeped HUGE and orange against the black sky. I felt like we were going on a date. She, all orange on black, and me, all purple on gray. Wind all around. I wondered if she could see me.
I watched her until she started to fade into white as she rose higher in the sky, and I turned back toward home, banking and cranking along the white lines and riding way too fast with a purple vapor trail in the October night.


Friday, October 21, 2005

much ado

I'm sitting in the sanctuary of a Lutheran church in downtown Columbia. Arched ceiling, high beams, huge painting of Jesus, and Wifi. I'm suspecting that in a couple years, there will be no urban setting where you can't pull out your laptop and be connected to the entire planet. Already, when I have work to do, I have to think extra hard to remember if the resources I need are actually on my computer, or if they are on the internet.
I can receive email from anywhere I'm connected, but i can only send from computer if I'm at home. Evidently, RR knows whether I'm sending through the IP they've assigned me. So if I'm away from home, I have to use webmail to send. That makes me think that those emails are only available from the server, when in fact, they've been stored on my computer. I've looked all over for a connection to retrieve things that are sitting my lap the whole time.
I know that this is a nonsense post, but I can't concentrate on anything worthwhile to write while I'm waiting on someone to call my name and tell me I'm needed to play someone down the aisle. So I notice that Molly has posted again today, and that if I'm not careful, she will steal all my readers. So I thought I'd better post something so that the ol' blog doesn't go stagnant while Molly's blooms.
I also have ample evidence to support my theory that people only comment on my blog if I post nonsense, so I thought I might be able to compete with Molly's high comment volume by just rambling on about nothing. Now, I'm not saying that she rambles on about nothing. I'm just saying that that seems to work for me.
So this afternoon I was te


Thursday, October 20, 2005

the mouths of babes

It is a proud day for a blogger daddy. Molly has been reading Allison and me stories that she's written for a while now. She actually has a whole series based on a single character. I was telling Allison that I think all three kids should blog. Then, tonight as I was getting ready to go to the gym, Molly showed me her diary. I told her that if she enjoyed doing that, she would enjoy blogging. So she asked me how it was done. I sat down beside her and she logged onto blogger and set up a site. I didn't push a button, make any decisions, or anything except help her when the interface was a bit less intuitive.
When it appeared as if she had it all underway, I left to go to the gym. When I returned, I found her first blog entry. I think she will put us all to shame. Read this, and then if you think you can do better, well, start blogging.



it is very difficult to keep all the plates spinning during the school year. And during the summer, there is less of a need to keep them spinning. So it is easy to arrive at a place where some plates have not spun for months. I'm living in a batch process world. The batches are small, time wise, but sometimes loom large in the amount of work and preparation. I rush from one project or responsibility to another, as I know most of us do.
I play guitar officially, 3 or 4 times a week in front of a whole lot of people, but I don't really play. Times when I really play are getting fewer and further between. I need desperately to remedy that. Chops don't just lie dormant. Muscle memory snaps back, but the longer the dormancy, the greater the loss of elasticity. So tonight between prep for the normal weekly things, I'm multi-tasking with my guitar in my lap. It is a beautiful sound even in the struggle. If you're interested, though I know you've heard it before, here is what I'm playing for the pretty bridesmaids to stroll down the aisle, as chosen by the bride.

UPDATE: the link to the bride's strolling music has been repaired, (if you're interested, of course).


Wednesday, October 19, 2005

come to the table

A day or two ago, a list of bloggers from the Emergent Gathering appeared on the Emergent blog. I had a few blogs in my brain from some conversations, and had visited them, but I was excited to see so many and hopefully get the chance to see what others were saying upon their returns from our conversations. Some folks got even more interesting when they got back to their computers.
Yesterday Andrew Jones very favorably about the gathering, and ironically, described it mostly in terms of what it was not. Allison laughed when I told her about that, because one of my greatest beefs (as my blog plainly rants) is defining things by what they are not.
In the case of the gathering though, I'm not sure there was a better way to erase a picture of a christian conference in the minds of folks who weren't there. Andrew went on to explain what it was though, and in doing that, hit on what I think was one of the most important things about the conference, "It took place in kitchens, I like kitchens."
This is a picture of my upbringing. When Allison first met my family, she couldn't figure out why everyone loitered at the table a LONG time after the meal was finished. Ironically, my family rarely had a meal prepared, to which everyone sat down, ate, and rose from. Food would magically appear from my mother's magic ability and people mill about the kitchen, visiting and chatting, and chewing, and grabbing and laughing. When extended family gather at my parents' house the same thing happens. Dinner is ongoing and provides a means for people to move about and talk with many different people as they eat. Or should I say, eat as they talk with many different people?
This is what the Gathering was like. So that the more formal, scheduled conversations that took place under a tree or on the steps, or a rock, or at an art gallery, were easier and friendlier and more tolerant and more edifying, because folks had eaten together. I think there is no better facilitator of friendship than food and drink.
One of the most (if not the most) important benefits that we are afforded here at work, is that the faculty are given lunch if they eat with students. This has been a perk for as long as I've been here, and I believe that lunch is as important as any other time in campus life, including classroom and chapel.
We woo our wives with dinner. Perhaps the confusion of means to intimacy and expression of intimacy would be lessened if all expression was preceeded with a stint at the table. We received as a wedding gift 19 years ago, a book called, "first, we have coffee."
Jesus instituted the symbol of the new covenant with food and drink. And he refers to us as his bride. Is there any possible way to participate in this symbol without growing closer to him? Is there any way to participate in communion in community (sorry to be redundant) without growing closer to the represented body that is partaking of the represented broken body?
Jesus seems not to have been able to resist the table, for it was there that he broke the bread and poured the wine, taught as if there was no tomorrow (true in many ways), prayed long and hard for those who had just eaten with him, wrapped a towel around himself and washed their feet.
As I thought about this aspect of the gathering, I thought of the very first conversation I was a part of, that dealt with means of connecting students between colleges like ours, with other colleges close by. We were brainstorming ideas of getting students together across disciplines and campuses to discuss issues that were common to both. I told the group about a two friends of mine, a couple from Japan who take guitar lessons from me. This couple have a full time ministry to students at USC, that centers upon lunch. They provide lunch, students come and eat and hang and talk, and my friends become a part of their lives. Everything else they do together, everything they talk about, is all made possible from a friendship grown at the table.
Everything I am now, or will ever attain to is made possible by a gift that was symbolized, before it even happened, at the table.


Sunday, October 16, 2005


it's like rain on your wedding day, a free ride when you've already paid, good advice that you just didn't take, it's like buying an iPod 10 days before the new iPod video comes out. Who would've thought... it figures.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

in the long run

well, it's Saturday night (actually Sunday morning) and I've not posted since Thursday. Although, I spent the entire day yesterday en route (I got up at 4:30a to make it to the airport, and arrived home around 10p), it is still a bit odd to have a blank day on the blog considering all I've experienced this week. Truth is, huge things are playing in my head, they just don't find themselves made into words yet. This evening, I've sat and pondered and still nothing to sum anything up. The conversations this week ran the gamut of topics, from immediate day-to-day appenticeship stuff, to huge, decade long stuff that seems impossible to realize.
In one conversation, Brian McLaren was talking about some things to which someone responded, is this something that can happen in the church as we know it, or is this a change that would have to take place over decades? The response was one that caused great contemplation on my part.
There are some areas of my life in which I have unfathomable stamina. There are things that I've been at for many years seeing only incremental progress. I spent 10 years in graduate school trying to become the best guitarist I could be, but many things in my life don't come about because I don't want to wait on them. Granted, these are often only tiny insignificant things, but so often my procrastinating reasoning makes no sense at all. I'll want a book and put off ordering it because it will take so long to get here. Of course, when I finally order it, it comes a week or two later than it originally would have. To have to wait for something so often douses my desire for it. Can't I just issue a decree or proclamation and have everything immediately become the way it ought to be, or the way I want it? The answer? NO!
This has caused me to look back for encouragement in the things that have happened because I've stayed the course. Even Paul warned us that this was what it was going to take. We press on toward the mark of the high calling. Imagine the distance runner.
You can do a lot in a lifetime
If you don't burn out too fast
You can make the most of the distance
First you need endurance
First you've got to last...
It's the test of ultimate will, the heartbreak climb uphill. The road ahead is sometimes very discouraging. Muscles burn, sweat gets in your eyes, obstacles are thrown in your path. One needs to be reminded of what has been accomplished through perseverance. These are the stories that encourage us. Often we know the stories - we just need to be reminded. McLaren's response to the question was, "what if it were 1840 - would you rather be on the side of the abolitionists, or not?" I know I'd rather be on the right side, though we know that it took another quarter century for things to be righted, and in 1840, there was surely no encouragement that things would ever change. A way of life meant the preservation of a great wrong. But perseverance beat out preservation.
Often the very things that need to be changed are the current location of a marathon of movement. The course has been altered or lost, and it's like changing the direction of a train with so much forward momentum on a rail. But it can be done. It can be done.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

listen and see

Three days of conversation concludes with voiceless people standing looking at one another. It is astounding how long a group of people can stand together and look into one another's eyes without speaking. Eyes going about the group and making contact one at a time.
For three days the conversation was non-stop. Incredibly important dialogue and ideas concerning the Church Emerging. If THE church, yours and mine, traditional, contemporary, reformed, wesleyan, seeker, liturgical, is going to emerge as healer and shaper of hurting and malformed culture, who and how should we be? We felt as if God were fueling our conversation, speaking to us through one another. Then this morning, after prayer, poems, prayer, encouragement, prayer, eucharist - he closed our mouths and asked us to look around at representatives of his church and listen to his voice and go. We listened deep within our hearts and looked deep into one another and saw beautiful things that even days of conversation couldn't show us.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

taking it to the streets

Sometimes you can have an aha moment that is such an epiphany that it defies words. Sometimes the aha is a concise, clear way of saying something, or representing a concept that forms in your brain, but when the attempt is made to say something in this concise and clear way, you realize that it was still only a concise and clear concept that formed in your brain, and that it still eludes verbiage. Sometimes the new concise and clear way of way turns out to be just as verbose and muddy as the other way. The resulting thought frustrated thought process is something like, "AHA!!! - Darn".
Sometimes the aha is merely something that has suddenly become clear to you, but once clear, you realize that everyone else already knew and understood it. This results in something like, "AHA!!!!! - duh."
Today, I was thinking some more about the way we misunderstand Jesus things and often apply kingdom concepts to earthly methodologies. I was thinking more about our ill-fated attempts to imitate Jesus' methods and teachings, but seem to get the two mixed mixed up. I sometimes wonder if we are so content merely to invite folks to come to Jesus, because he used conceptual verbiage that sounds like this. Jesus said, "All who are thirsty, come..." So we set up shop, gather for worship, and then advertise our church as a space for people to come and receive the gospel. But Jesus never created a space to invite people to come to, he always came to them and then invited them to come with him. He began this by coming to earth. He continued by going about and gathering his disciples rather than putting an ad in the classifieds. He went to the shore to get the fishermen, he went to the money table to get the tax collector. He went to the well to bring living water to the Samaritan woman. He didn't ask us to come and die, he went to the cross and invited us to follow him.
It seems to me like more than a nuanced difference between the Field of Dreams mentality and the acting of taking the gospel to the people who need good news.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

no lurking

It snowed last night here in Santa Fe. Well, actually, it snowed higher up the mountains, so that when we woke, the mountains glistened. The sun didn't shine much until early this evening, but that was just in time to scatter hundreds of different skyscapes throughout the huge New Mexico sky. Myriad hues and shades shone against the remaining, scattering clouds and crepuscular happiness illuminated the snowy mountains.
It was pineapple, muskmellon, and crepes for breakfast, rice and stir fry for lunch, and blue corn enchiladas with green for supper.
Last night at the organizational/informational meeting, a comment was made about the focus on community. "If you see someone being alone, go and be with them, that is until you find out that they wanted to be alone." Yes, the word "conversation" is still used to describe what is going on, and being on the receiving end only, is something that is frowned upon. No one should be a lurker. That is, of course, unless you want to be a lurker.
I was thinking this morning in the shower about the conversation idea. Everyone is involved. Everyone has a contribution. As opposed to conferences that I've attended where every detail of your existing is taken care of so that you can concentrate on listening to an expert or proven success story say some things to which you want to listen, at this gathering all the things that conference attendees normally have done and provided for them are done together as part of the gathering. While over at the "come and see how I do it" conference a facilitated feeling of community is being attempted with some clever icebreaker game, here, folks are growing together by preparing meals with and for one another, washing dishes, and cleaning up.
Folks have introduced conversation topics that they would like to facilitate or be a part of, and it is not uncommon for them to say very little once the conversation is started.
So while I was showering, I had the thought that once this idea is embraced, it is very difficult to lurk. But this can be a very difficult idea to embrace. In church and society, we have made it about so few things that a narrow set of abilities, personalities, gifts, and ideas are needed to make things work. If you've got these, we need you. If you don't, you lurk and listen and try to find someone's wagon to jump on. But is that really real? Is that really all that it's about? At the personal level, is that really all we need from each other? And why do we not always operate at the personal level. We're people after all.
So I realized that what people need from you is not what you don't have. Somehow we've bought into what we've been told people need, and we ain't got it. So we lurk. But what people really need is you. They need me, too. Isn't that weird? Here they know it, and they're asking for it. Today in a small group conversation, I made a comment about a characteristic of mine that seems to put people ill at ease, or that they misunderstand. All day long, people approached me talk specifically about THAT. Not to help me overcome it, but to discuss how to become more like that.
Guess they could have asked me to preach, but they don't need from me what I don't have.


Monday, October 10, 2005


When two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure I’ll be there.

I’m in the air on my way to Albuquerque where I’ll get a car and drive up to Santa Fe and to Glorieta for a gathering of like-minded Christian wierdos like me. At least that’s why I’m going – I’m expecting to be able to converse with other believers without having someone look at me like I’ve lost my last marble.
All morning I’ve been thinking of Jesus’ promise that when we gather in his name he will be in our midst. Last year after I took Jack to the Rush concert in Atlanta, I blogged about the intense feeling of unity and community among the concert goers. There were thousands of people there from all walks of life, backgrounds, cultural contexts, but everyone was there for the same reason. I lamented that you gather a couple hundred people at church and possibly find fifty different reasons for the gathering. Because we do not gather to worship and seek God, community rarely results.
I’ve gathered many times to seek God with a small group of single-purpose, like-minded friends and felt the intensity of the Spirit in our midst. The resulting bond and community in the group is one that can’t be attained in any other way. We can make music and play foosball together and become good friends, but we will never experience community like that fostered in the seeking of the Spirit.
On a particular night, we gathered on a patio outside Borders bookstore in Charlotte with tons of weighty, scary, dimly lit questions and wispy hearts. We spoke into the lives of one another and found ourselves honored with the presence of an extra friend. When we realized that we’d probably ought to head back toward Columbia, we thought about praying, but it was as if that would have been a sort of slap in the face to one who had been sitting among us, listening and translating, speaking to and through us all evening long. We realized that we’d been praying so we breathed an amen and drove home.
I’ve been anticipating this trip with such expectations. Can you imagine 150 people gathered for a single purpose? Worship, guidance, community. I’m preparing for an intensity of shekinah that I’ve never experienced before. For this I am praying.


Saturday, October 08, 2005

self-portrait as rod

I followed the homepage link from “Jessi’s” comment to find A Broken Beauty. There, I saw a “self-portrait as Jesus” that really moved me. This is something that I’ve thought about a lot lately, but I haven’t really known what to do with my thoughts. I’ve practically camped there in thought land since my Holy Week experiences in March. Last night, I was thinking about it while watching U2 on Conan. I remembered a friend telling me about a U2 concert he saw shortly after the WTC attacks, in which Bono picked up an American flag that had been tossed onto the stage, and gently folded it, cradled and rocked it in his arms. I've thought about it as I've watched Bono go about the globe seeking justice, pleading for the widow, and defending the fatherless, while being criticized by Christians for not using his platform to further the Kingdom.
This morning, I was thinking about it again as I thought through a song, mentally preparing for a chapel I’m working on, and saw images in my mind that I thought would go well as video with the song. I was playing the part of Jesus in the in-my-mind video.
Where do we get these ideas of self-depicting Jesus symbolically? It is quite different than depicting him by operating like him, by being incarnational in our lifestyles, attitudes, service and love. But I’ve imagined myself in a self-portrait as Jesus holding my wife. Kissing my children. Crying with my friends. How else would I be capable of these things?
Can we remind ourselves that we are to look like Jesus in the way we interact with others, by imagining ourselves portraying him? Can we better identify with and share in his suffering by imagining ourselves portraying him? Did he imagine himself as me when he took upon himself all my ugliness and suffered death that was meant for me?
I remember that once, Jesus was walking along with and amongst a crowd of people when a woman who had been sick for a long time touched his robe and was healed. He stopped and asked who’d touched him, because he felt the power go out of him. Of course there is no power in me to go to anyone, but have you ever felt power surge through you? Have you ever given something that you didn’t even have?
What of Jesus can humans possibly see? Anything in me? Kindness? Caring? Healing? Accepting? Forgiveness? Service? I have none of these to give had he not posed for a “self-portrait as Rod”. I am so grateful that he depicted me.


Friday, October 07, 2005


I just looked at my calendar and realized that today is the anniversary of my blog. So I clicked the archive and took a look at the post with which I kicked off my blog two years ago. I have to say that for the two years prior, I had an intermittent blog of sorts on the gracemonkey site and that I had decided to do it for real, I thought I could even repost some of my old rants on there, which I eventually did. But on October 7, I set up the blog and realized that it had to be a fresh start, so I just started ranting. This morning I couldn’t have told you what that rant was about, but I looked. You guessed it. Relevance. Of course, I like others, have tried to avoid the topic, but you can only listen to lambasting for so long before you speak up again, and so I did on Wednesday. Didn’t even know that it was sort of a anniblogary, topic revisit.
Anyway, so as to follow what seems to have become somewhat of a blogger’s tradition, I’ll link to a few of my favorite thoughts from the past year. It's not that I expect any of you to be interested in rereading, or even reading old news, but here are some quickly gathered favorite musings, ramblings and rants, from the past 12 months. Self-indulgent? Maybe, but here dey is:

a psalm
divine offices
flowing like a river
high desert
that's 'retha franklin
the owning of a daddy's heart
the returning
wherefor art thou?
you and me


Thursday, October 06, 2005

melancholy grace

We had a very wet spring and summer. August was wetland heaven. I couldn’t go out on my bike for more than a few minutes all summer without getting rained on. Early forecasts for the autumn pallete were very promising due to all the rain.
Then September came. In my portion of town, nary a drop of wet stuff – all month. No exaggeration. Said so, on the news. An entire month of dry, beautiful weather, if a bit too hot.
Yet we entered October with less than an inch deficit. Go figure. Until last night, that is. It began to drizzle, surprisingly, just before sunset. By this morning, there was a slow, steady rain soaking everything. I woke to open windows letting in the sound of the mandolin rain in the trees, rising and falling as the intensity waxed and waned like a self-indulgent Italian playing for tips. I spent the morning working at the kitchen table watching the steady predictability out the window.
When I absolutely had to go out in it to get to work, I stepped off the front porch reluctantly, but when the first drop hit my face, everything changed. I walked so slowly across the front yard that I was soaked when I got to my truck. I dried a bit during the commute, but lumbered across the parking lot so that when I went to class, I was dripping.
It was the stereo sound of steady rain in 360 panoramic hifi. It was cool cleansing on the skin. It was deep, wet, greens against light grey sky. I hadn’t realized how dusty I’d become from a month of sunny ease – dragging through the gorgeous days, existing moment to moment, barely making deadlines, watching the bright sun cross the blue sky wondering why the days are so short.
This morning, time stood still. No sun blazing across the sky to hurry you to the end of business. No growing light of morning, no waning light of evening. A full day of 40 watt consistency.
I thought of how the weather affects our mood and emotion. But that’s because we have emotional consistency relatively equivalent to the weather. We are up and down according to circumstances, chemistry - both internal and external. The weather is about the same, and we tend to match our ups with the sunshine and our downs with the rain. But what happens when the weather is not moody? What happens when the weather is manic for a 35 days? Can you last that long without feeling sorry for yourself for some reason? If you don’t, after a few days of weather mismatched to your mood, you’re apt to become angry. How dare you blue sky and bright sun? How dare you cool breeze and swaying trees? How dare you cumulus clouds and crepuscular rays? How dare you mock me with your eternal happiness? Can’t you see I need sympathy? How about a few tears from an empathic atmosphere?
Today the sky answered. I have heard your cry and have harkened my ear. Be washed. A cathartic cleansing washed dry, self-sorry dust down the street and into the gutter. All day long we walked hand in hand – the grey sky and I.
Today, grey was my favorite color. Man, I feel so symbolic today. If I knew Picasso, I'd buy myself a grey guitar and play.
Wait a minute, I have a grey guitar.

‘tis cotton clouds in pastel sky
under which my sadness lies;
and breezes gentle, cool and sweet
to kiss my tear damp face
‘tis cool grey clouds in heavy sky
that truly hear my heaving sighs
and bring to light a smile to greet
a melancholy grace.


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

a very dirty word

During the summer, I was sent an email from the Dean’s office asking me to teach a topic to two sections of the Principles of Teaching and Learning course. Having something to say about the topic, I was excited, but being terrified of all I had to do, I ignored the email, planning to respond when I felt less overwhelmed. When I was in the Dean’s office a few days ago, I remembered that email, assumed that I’d missed the class and all was done. Today I found the request, and it is for November. The topic is “Cultural Relevance in Teaching and Learning”. Now I know why I put it aside for so long. I wasn’t at the place I needed to be in order to know what needed to be said in that class. So this morning when I was supposed to be addressing a more immediate deadline, I jotted down some thoughts based on recent conversations and comments concerning this subject.
Here is a portion of one of my random access thought processes:
One of the statements I most often hear, and from some of my dearest friends, who are reacting to perceived dumbing down, or changing of the message in order to connect with the larger culture, is “I don’t want to be relevant, I just want to be holy.” But I’ve never understood this statement. That is, unless I equate it with the contemporary church’s use of the terms “application” and “practical”. A thought paradigm which asserts that every sermon must also include a “practical application” of the subject matter to the life of the listener will immediately define the term “relevance” by means of “perceived need”, or preference based application. Otherwise, the terms holy and relevant aren’t the antithesis of one another. But because of the backlash and tongue-lashing brought by the use of the term, those who seek to find a relevant way to speak the word have begun to avoid the use of the term, and have bought into the accused shallowness of the concept, and claim they’ve moved passed it. Relevance has become a very dirty word.
This is too bad, because Jesus never saw a problem with speaking in the language of the people to whom he brought the gospel.
The bad taste, I believe is caused by having already misapplied the concept of relevance, but having called it practicality and application. The method may look the same, but the message is different.
We often mistake Jesus’ vehicle for the picture painting of the gospel story for the subject matter. Jesus was ultra-culturally relevant, but who would ever question his holiness? Well, the Pharisees did. The religious establishment. All his parables and metaphors were common knowledge and experience for everyone listening to him. We observe how he did things and try to be culturally relevant by imitating him. But in doing so, we have often mistaken his metaphor for his subject matter.
Jesus used financial investments as a metaphor for kingdom investment and spiritual growth. We, in turn, offer financial instruction as a “discipleship” program. Rather than trying to apply our everyday knowledge to better understand God, we try to apply God to get more out of our business, lifestyle, and investments. “Apply these biblical principles to your financial life and you will prosper.” While Jesus said, “apply what you understand about finances to help your understanding of the Kingdom.”
Jesus had a topic and concept that is relevant to all men and women of all time in all cultures. He taught using conceptual parallels that were relevant to their culture. He understood how they thought, and he taught HIS subject matter in culturally relevant ways. We, on the other hand, search for culturally relevant subject matter that we feel will be of interest to people. Rather than using marriage as a metaphor to better understand Christ and the Church, we teach how to apply biblical principles to your marriage. We apply Jesus as a resource for our concerns and contexts rather than our contexts as a means of knowing Him better. The contemporary church calls this “practical application” and scoffs at the idea of relevance as a “dumbing down” of the message. While seeking to be relevant should affect the way we present the same old story, rather than changing the story to one that has perceived interest to a particular group of people at a particular time.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

october blue

This morning brought the first official October blue sky to Columbia. There have been exquisitely pretty days recently, but they were pretty in September ways. Here we are 4 days in, and the blue arrived. Thick, deep, and cloudless, providing a canvas for the oak and maple leaves and a single giamongous hawk perched outside my kitchen window, during Wheaties this morning.
Last night, the sky had become sufficiently unsummerized as to reveal Pleiades over the deck - I should have expected the October blue this morning.

and that weren't no summer sunset neither!


Saturday, October 01, 2005

context defined concepts

It’s no secret to anyone who has ever spent any time with me, or who has ever read my blog for any length of time, that I have specific issues and passions. Often, someone who hasn’t spent time with me might observe me doing something, or hear me say something and just correct me off-the-cuff, assuming that what I did or said was off-the-cuff. It wasn’t. So I tend to warn people – of course I may be wrong, but if I am, I’m still wrong after MUCH thought, grappling, observation, assimilation, study and prayer. The irony is that having heard me say something, if someone takes exception, they are speaking without having thought through what I’ve said, or what they are saying in response. For this reason, I tend to frustrate people who correct me thinking I’ve just made a rebellious or knee-jerk reaction to something. They aren’t prepared for me to be able to back up my statements.
Of course I know that I respond to other people in the same way. They’ve thought, prayed, observed, assimilated and grappled, and I hear them without having done the same with their issue. I may respond in my mind, but I know better than to attack their opinion without the same hard fought ammunition as they’ve built up.
I’ve given talks before, after which folks have come to me to say, “Rod, I’ve done a lot of study and teaching on this subject, and don’t agree with what you’ve said; if you don’t mind, I’d like to send my notes to you so that we can talk about it later.” I’ve received many documents that had nothing whatever to do with what I was talking about. I’ve got to figure this out! People will tend to zero in on something you say and apply it to their own context that doesn’t apply. But the biggest fallacy I’ve come across in my being misunderstood, (brace yourself) deals in (it’s not a surprise) methodology(!)
Yes, I’ve ranted about it on these pages ad nauseum. But it SO gets in the way. So from time to time, as is my way, I come across a thought, or a statement that tends to help make sense of something I’ve been trying to verbalize for some time.
You’ll remember that I spoke last spring about methodology and spiritual gifting, and was challenged in ways that proved my point. My point was that we reduce a concept to a methodology and then defend the methodology by referring to the concept.
Just the other day through an unlikely series of hyperlinks, I read a comment to another’s blog that pointed out our faulty processes in pondering the phrase, “God is Love”. Most have a tendency to purport to understand love and thus believe that we are meant to understand God based on our understanding of love. So we read the statement as if it is using our meager understanding of love to define God. We are left with a faulty picture of God based on our shallow understanding of love. Others of us don’t think this statement is meant to describe God at all, but assume that the statement means that God is the ultimate picture of love. Either of these processes betrays our assumption that we know something that we may not know.

We do the same thing with hundreds of things that we defend as inseparable from our theology and doctrine. Specifically, I mentioned preaching as one such misunderstood concept. Today preaching refers to a specific activity, done in a specific way, in a specific context. Folks who are trained to preach, are trained in a methodology. We no longer recognize any activity, though it may accomplish the same goal, as preaching if it doesn’t fit our methodological and contextual definition of the act of preaching. We have a tendency to misunderstand or misapply biblical terminology and concepts based on our current methodology of the same context.
If you have a picture in your head of the Apostle Paul standing on a platform behind a lectern above a crowd of people among the statues of Greek gods on Mars Hill in Athens, preaching the gospel, you are victim to word-defined contexts. Yes, he was preaching, but his methodology had nothing to do with our methodological definition of the activity. What Paul was doing was verbally, interactively engaging the people around him. People he had sought out and placed himself in the middle of in order to converse with them.
The truth is, that words often have to be defined by their contexts, not contexts defined by words.
If I were to use the word “row” in two entirely different contexts, say, first, “I will row my boat along the river bank,” and, “let’s place the chairs in rows,” the word row must be defined differently in each of the two contexts. In fact, I’m using it as a noun in one context, and a verb in the other. This may seem like a silly illustration, surely no one who understands a row of chairs would assume that I am making rows of boats along the riverbank. Or would they? This is what we do with concepts whose methodologies have changed over time, or whose purpose could as easily be accomplished by many different methodologies. So we do a thing, call it preaching and assume that anytime anyone ever preached, they did it just like us. Our method becomes sacred to us because we know absolutely nothing else.
Of course, “preaching” is just used as an illustration. We’ve done the same thing with many concepts. We define a word based on a context and then apply that context faultily to another context. Because back in the Spring, I spoke about the contexts of Pastor, Preacher, Poet, Prophet, these are the persons, gifts, and contexts that I see as most confused, misapplied, misdefined and misunderstood. If I get enough guts to continue here, I think I’ve finally got enough clarity in my head to let it fly. I hope you’ll interact, otherwise it’s just me squawking.