Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Round a' Bouts

I finally took the plunge. After a few months of wavering, I finally jumped on the DSL bandwagon - mostly because Earthlink offered to give it to me for the same price as what I currently pay for dial-up. I figured I didn't have anything to lose. Even better, five days after I signed up for DSL the modem arrived, and I thought I was on my way to streaming audio and skipping from website to website as though I were dancing on clouds. I was footloose and fancy free ... until I hooked up the modem and - wallah - no DSL!

For the past week two weeks, I've been trying to "troubleshoot" what the problem is, which means I've been calling 1-888-Earthlink over and over again. Finally, though, I got them to send out a technician yesterday, and he confirmed that my telephone line hasn't been wired yet for DSL service. He then informed me that our line is serviced by an SBC building two blocks north of us ... "shouldn't be a problem getting that up by tomorrow morning," he assured me. But when the modem still showed no signs of life this morning, I was back on the phone - pushing numbers to direct me through customer service labrynth.

As it stands now, we're just waiting for the technicians in the building just two blocks away to make the connection. Of course, there is no direct number to get a hold of them. Instead, we call another 1-800 number and speak to somebody over in India. Oh, it is driving me insane.

Thankfully, to keep me from breaking, we got the best Christmas gift ever imaginable: MacGyver - the First Season. First off, I had no idea that Henry Winkler (aka 'the Fonz') produced the show. Secondly, I forgot how corny and easy natured 80's shows are. We've watched two shows already, and we've also made some other assessments:

-Criminals and bad guys in the 80's were ridiculously bad shots - often missing from less than twenty feet (and with automatic weapons to boot!)
-Narration by the hero is intended to be cool, but upon closer examination it is often just corny
-Solving intensely difficult problems or overcoming tremendous odds is much easier when you've got video editing, stunt doubles, and only fifty-five minutes of air-time.

Which leads me to one final conclusion: life is simply not television. The fantasy that was MacGyver or Magnum P.I. is a far cry from the reality of day-to-day. In real life, villians aren't shown in profile in the first thirty seconds of the show, and life's problems often don't involve international drug lords, toxic gas leaks, or the threat of nuclear holocaust. Life is more sordid, less absolute and much more confusing. I spent my day fumbling my way through automated voice mail messages, and as far as I could tell, there was no easy way around the madness. Then again, I'm not MacGyver.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Back at it

It's been a wild couple of weeks for Anna and I, and we made things absolutely crazy this past weekend. Since our little CRX doesn't hold more than two people and lacks a back seat, we drove over 1800 miles to Avon, CO to switch cars with the family (sidenote: I hope not to offend Brian, Rachel, Gayle and Ryan by laying this tantalizing fact out there, since we were a few hours away from Denver. Believe you me: if we could have gone the extra couple hours and enjoyed a brief stay, we would've. But I digress ...). The trip was like a marathon, spiritual journey and plunge into the twilight zone. Nothing like driving through the Joshua trees of the Mojave, the glittering neon lights of Vegas and through the cascading snow of the Rockies all in one day.

To make the trip, we drove from 5:30 am on Saturday morning 'till 11:30 pm that night, slept till 9 am and hit the road after breakfast at Denny's. All said and done, we made it back to Pasadena after $114 in gas, two stops at Arby's, a double-double from In n' Out and many miles of daydreaming and singing along to cd's (just bought David Gray's "Life in Slow Motion"; very soothing and rhythmic, excellent for the decending hours of dusk).

What was really hard was the amount of dark hours we experienced since we drove away from the sun the first day and couldn't catch up to it the second. There's nothing like seeing the sun set at 4 pm California time and knowing there's six mores hours to drive.

Arizona seemed like a dream that Nicolas Cage had in "Raising Arizona", and parts of Utah looked like the end of "Terminator 2". But perhaps the most surreal stretch of the drive came on I-70 east as the highway snaked its way through a valley with water flowing west beside the highway and snow softly falling. Meanwhile, a train heading east was barrelling along beside the highway - moving silently around and through mountains while its yellow-white light shone forth onto canyon walls. By the way, did I mention a big ol' buck tried to cross in front of our car at one point. It thought better when I flashed my brights and honked the horn while hurtling towards it at 70 mph. That was the closest we came to danger; thanks be to God for keeping us safe and sound.

Also a big thanks to Drew for being a great bro and sacrificing more than a few days to make the other side of the trip. His was actually longer - over 2,000 miles (But then again, he also got to ski in Avon). It was great to catch up with him, and we all three enjoyed the briefest of minutes we had over breakfast. We got some great pics in the snow - one of them is at the top.

Anyhow back to my original point: things have been crazy lately. And the haste around the holidays has left Anna and I saddened. For the first time, we both feel Christmas is coming too fast. Perhaps more disturbing, it's been hard for us to reflect upon and enjoy this season. Connecting with family, reflecting on the year gone by and the year ahead, giving gifts from our heart and meditating upon the gift of Jesus Christ have alluded us by and large.

While going through these delirious days, I've also realized that a great many Christmas stories/movies are centered upon this theme: life begins to move irreconciably out of control which causes great consternation or sadness. But just when things seem lost, life is restored and new opportunities are granted. Such are the tales of Ebenezer Scrooge and his depleted existence or Clark Griswald's doomed Christmas hopes. So perhaps this more to be said about this Christmas season.

We have continued to get some wonderful cards, emails and gifts from friends and family, which has been a blessing. Even if our communication and support has been sparse, we are both thankful others have been more gracious. It is hard being far apart from people we love - always, Christmas just accentuates the reality.

Anna has been battling a wicked cough the last few days, and she acted wisely by taking work off today. It's amazing how emotional, pyschological and spiritual diress manifest themselves in physical ways. Anna noticed last week that our little boy to be wasn't nearly as active, either - a fact we attribute to stress. But no worries; we've restocked our pantry and gotten some Echinacea tea to stir up some good health. Plus, seventy degrees and sunny can't hurt the cause, which is what it was today in Pasadena.


Only a few more days to go before Christmas Eve. Peace to all.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

An Active Little Guy

For the last hour, I've been combing through Google sites trying to find boy names. Anna and I have yet to land on a "this-is-it" name for our soon to be son, so we've been sounding out combinations and even going so far as trying out a couple for a few days. It does seem inherently wrong to be auditioning names as though they were a cell phone plan or a car. But if those sorts of things are worth a little time, research and test drives, why shouldn't a name be as well?

In fact, there's really a bunch of similarities between names and cars. You can go with an old standby like Adam or Michael, which is like a Ford or a Honda, and you're bound to get acceptance by the vast majority. Plus, there's less risk with names like these. For instance, if something goes wrong with your Ford it's because the whole American manufacturing system is defunct. Likewise, the only people the Adam's and Michael's have to blame for their failure or frustration is something broad and indefinite like politics or economics.

However, the exact opposite is true for names like Abner or Tobias. Here you run the risk of having a budding noble prize winner, runway model or social outcast - the fine line between the Porches of the world and the Delorean that only raced through Back to the Future.

Of course, the most recent trend is to adjust a middle-of-the-road sedan name like Michael or Caleb by using a new spelling, such as Kaleb. In the end, though, it's pretty much like tricking out your Honda Civic: if it's not done well, it just looks crappy and may even be a sign of white trash.

Anyhow, everything continues to go well with the pregnancy, and our little guy is getting more and more active. For the last two nights, he's been wiggling, kicking and turning for an hour. Anna was spell-bound by all this activity, and I don't blame her. I put my hand on her belly and felt him shifting around, making a bump here and a poke there. It's just surreal and awesome. I'll see Anna grin and look at her belly with wide eyes. Then Anna will place her hands on her stomach and wait - letting her senses take over and allow movement to speak to her - the subtle communication of new life. I too let my hands feel and sense this movement, but I know I'm on the outside looking in. What must it be like to have a human being pulse and move within you? This to me is the miracle of motherhood.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Here's Johnny ... Johnny Cash that is

If you watched the special on CBS tonight, you heard some of Johnny Cash's classics - including one of my favorites, the Wanderer (originally performed with U2). Over the last year, I've been introduced to Cash's music, and I'm the better for it. We'll soon see if the movie about him is able to capture some of the mystique and power of his life and music. I hope so.

The upcoming movie also reminded me of a story which I had hoped to publish on Unfortunately it never made their site, so I'll do my own publishing this time. The story was written in the early part of '05 - when I was listening to Johnny Cash for the first time and the world was awaiting the fate of Pope John Paul II. Here's the story:

Somewhere in heaven the man in black has probably tipped his hat to the man in white. Call me speculative or even ludicrous, but I would like to believe Pope John Paul II was welcomed into the heavenly realms with a firm but cordial handshake from Johnny Cash. Yes, I am serious, and I mean the comparison with the utmost respect for the Pope, Catholics and Country music fans worldwide.

Though John Paul II and Johnny Cash had their obvious differences, the similarities between the two men run deep. Both men were icons for their people. Both were known as common men – able to embrace all levels of society. And no similarity is more significant than the way both men identified themselves with suffering and with the meek. They were champions of a humble road, and thus a lighthouse for our sleek, sitcom world.

Pope John Paul II welcomed his later years of suffering as a powerful, redemptive experience. The Vatican newspaper suggested in February the Pope was participating in the suffering of Christ and said “the bed of pain” had become the “the cathedral of life.” Though he passed away quietly in his apartment, his weakness was not hidden. His head held low, his words inaudible, he appeared just days before his death to pray and to bless.

The Pope’s final days were a stark contrast to his early days as Pontiff. When he became Pope twenty-six years ago he was athletic, determined and charismatic – attributes he would use as a world evangelist. Some even assert Pope John Paul II helped topple communism in his home country, Poland, and beyond.

However, his powerful influence emerged out of a humble and harsh childhood. He experienced the greatest tragedy of the 20th century when his country was occupied by Nazi Germany. More intimately, three of his family members, including his mother, died before he reached his 13th birthday.

Against this backdrop of sorrow and with his own health deteriorating, he freely acknowledged in 1994 “the pope must suffer so that every family and the world should see that there is...a higher gospel: the gospel of suffering, with which one must prepare the future.” His last act of leadership was to remind us that even godly, bold people still suffer and die.

Johnny Cash had his own way of walking the rugged road of death and suffering. Known as “the Man in Black,” Johnny Cash once sang “I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die.” This song and several others from Cash have gritty language more suitable for prison yards than churches. But the harsh side of Johnny Cash was more musical folklore than truth. In reality, his attitude was down-to-earth – mirroring the somber sound of his baritone voice. And his song “Man in Black” revealed Cash’s willingness to identify himself with the underprivileged and unknown, including these lyrics:

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times . . .

Well, we’re doing mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought ‘a be Man in Black.

Both John Paul II and Johnny Cash could have chosen different styles to demonstrate their fame in this world. They could have gone the way of many stars and people of power: building barriers between themselves and others. Thankfully, though, they chose a different path, the more difficult path. Pope John Paul II chose his years of suffering as a road to compassion, not isolation. Likewise, Johnny Cash chose to remember people others would just as soon forget. Both men dared to keep the door to brokenness open, knowing that many roads to heaven pass initially through Gethsemane and Golgotha.

So my idea may not be ludicrous after all. Pope John Paul II, the man who ended his earthly days hunched in white robes, was likely welcomed by a whole host of saints and angels. And I would like to believe up there in front somewhere Johnny Cash got a chance to say hello and welcome a friend.

What is certain is the legacy these two men left: modern examples of Christ-like compassion. They left some big shoes to fill, or should I say, some important clothes to wear. And regardless of what clothes you wear – black or white – you may want to reflect on the Pope’s final messages while listening to some Johnny Cash. I think they would be pleased, and you would be enriched.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Efficiency vs. Intimacy

For the last month and a half, I have been employed as a bank teller, and it has been a frightening introduction to the pace and expectations of service jobs. Let me preface all of this by saying the last customer service job was also my first: a grocery bagger. Back then, my job performance was entirely about efficiency and effectiveness in processing a customer's grocery assortment. Ask whether the customer prefers paper or plastic, keep the eggs and bread near the top, build off a foundation of cereal boxes and soup cans, pack perishables separately, and always keep cleaning products separately: these were the fundamental rules of a bagger.

Nowadays, I live by different, yet similar rules: enter various computer codes for various transactions, ask to see a driver's license for any cash withdrawal, keep focused on one transaction at a time, and always count money three times. Like my job as a bagger, the goal is efficiency and effectiveness, and there's two different ways I can know if I'm not hitting these marks. First of all, some customers have an incredible if annoying habit of letting me know when I am not processing their transactions quickly enough. The security glass between myself and members can prevent bullets from ending my life, but it can't protect me from angry glares and critical comments. Sticks and stones, right? Secondly, the managerial side of the branch is continually gauging my accuracy and speed in helping member's perform their banking needs. The ultimate test comes at the end of the day - is my cash drawer balanced or not? So there I sit as a bank teller, positioned obediently between the ongoing demands of personal finance and the ever-seeing eye of a security camera over my right shoulder. Both sides expect excellent service. I am essentially a conduit between consumer and producer - a middle man between those with financial needs and those with financial answers.

So the question I have to ask myself is why does a human being fill this job? If I am correct in that the necessities and goals of my position are effectiveness and efficiency, than it seems a computer would be a better employee. Not surprisingly, that is becoming more of the standard in the customer service world. Automated phone services and internet outlets are beginning to dominate as the only option for speaking to a company.

But the credit union I work for has decided that customer service is how they are going to differentiate themselves in a sea of financial options. The credit union realizes that regardless of how many mistakes a human being will make (about five a day for me), some people would much prefer driving ten miles to wait in a ten minute line to speak to a human being than getting on the internet and making an ebranch transfer.

Consequently, I find myself in the middle of a much larger struggle occurring in our world - a struggle between efficiency and intimacy. And I find my current employment situation to be a good reflection of these two forces. As a bank teller, I am challenged by forces of depersonalization and utilitarianism. As a disciple of Christ and as a pastor of God's people, I am challenged to make life ever more personal and to treat all peoples as God's children - regardless of a persons social value.

I am seeking that place Bonhoeffer said is where "your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." Whatever it is that I am called to, I hope and believe that it will mean an enlargement of my spirit and personality.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Simon Peter's journal

"Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, 'Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, 'This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!' When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, 'Get up and do not be afraid.' And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone." - Matthew 17:1-8

I went to the mountain never knowing I was going to see the glory of God in flesh and blood, but I did go with anxious steps - anxious to touch, taste and see Your marvels, Lord. I was eager ... I am ever eager to feel Your magnificence crowd into this world. For some reason, You consented this time, at least in part. You told our patriarch, Moses, we could not see you with the naked eye, only the passing of your glory. I was fascinated by this - fascinated You would tickle our fancy with a brush of Your power and potency.

But, now, to be on the other side of such glory ... where do I begin? When it happened I could only sputter nonsense, but even now I have nothing better to say! On the mountain, that is where sense became senseless; I became intoxicated with light, overpowered with substance. Where was I to go from Your magnitude, and, yet, to be hidden was my utmost desire. I was consummed. My speculation solidified into awe - my hope into dread. My thirst for knowledge of You became an incapacity to even swallow a drop. Fear told me to hide; Your radiance pulled me in, and I would have been left in the limbo of repulsion and attraction had it now been for Your touch. For where there was no hope of remaining on common ground with You, You became mercy on the mountain - exchanging glory for more common garb. You touched me not with the iron rod of heaven's thunder but rather with the simple, meek hand of a human. I too was transformed, Lord - from the stone of contrition to the flesh of relief and gratitude.

I came to the mountain to see Your glory; You came to introduce me to grace - manifesting mercy with gentle words. I looked high only to have you pick me up.

Kids Need Stability

I met with several teenagers at the hospital today, all living in the throws of confusion, loneliness, and anger. One male tearful over the gang-life he finds himself in, another who lamented the lack of emotional response and trust from his mom. Two girls, each of whom had lost their mothers in the last year, and one other girl, living with a friend because she hated the repeating pattern of separation and reuniting that her parents regularly engaged in.

I am just amazed at the way all teenagers I talk with long for constancy, for something stable and lasting. And I remember how tumultuous those years were for me, and I can't imagine trying to survive them on my own, as so many of these children do.

A big thank you to all of you who were the "fixtures" during my teenage years ...


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

When telemarketer's hang up on you

Ever since I graduated from seminary and started working as a bank teller, I've begun to see how little people understand or think about the Church. Actually, I don't quite know how to describe what I'm experiencing. All I know is that I'm leaving people speechless when I tell them I'm going into ministry.

Today, I had a quintessential (and quite humorous) example. I was at home on my day off, and shortly after noon the phone rang. Thinking it was a friend, I picked it up. Brief silence. But before I could hang up the phone, the telemarketer clicked on ...

"Is Mr. Kendall available?"
"Yes, this is him."
"Sir, I'm calling on behalf of SBC, and I wanted to let you know a couple of new deals we are offering for you in your area."
"SBC is now offering an even lower priced high speed internet service; is that something you'd be interested in?"
"Well, it says here that you have dial-up service. Is that correct?"
"Yes, it is."
"I don't want to be reading your mail, Mr. Kendall, but I bet that gets pretty frustrating waiting for your pages to download and such."
"How would you like to have SBC cable or DSL for as little as $14.95 a month? What are you paying right now?"
"Over $20."
"Yeah, so you could be listening to streaming audio and downloading pages in seconds with DSL. How does that sound?"
"It sounds pretty good, but I've already looked into this. My question is how long is the contract?"
"The contract is for 12 months."
"Well, that's just the problem. I can't gaurantee I'll be here for 12 months."
"Why is that Mr. Kendall?"
"I'm currently looking for a job, which could take me anywhere in the country."
"So you don't really know where you could be. What kind of job are you looking for?"
"Well, I'm going into ministry, and I really don't know where that will take me."
"Oh, ... [silence] Well, it's good talking to you Mr. Kendall, and thank you for using SBC."

That was it. Bam. For the first time in my life, I felt like the telemarketer was more anxious to get off the phone than I was. So bizarre, and yet so telling. What other job could I be pursuing that would create that reaction? Drug dealer, gang lord, circus performer? No, there would probably be a little more interest.

I don't think the telemarketer was offended or upset by my answer - simply stunned. I can almost see his mind turning when I told him I was going into ministry: "Is he celebate ... Does he believe the world is going to end in the next five years ... Is he going to preach to me ... Is he going to tell me to go to church?" Cause when you tell someone your going to be a minister, well, that changes things. They start acting like you knew what they were doing on Friday night. The start telling you how much they like church and why they haven't been able to make it for the last five weeks. They start ending phone conversations in the blink of an eye.

So, anyhow, if you really need to get off the phone with a telemarketer, tell him you're starting a church.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

California Dreamin'

"It's a long way home; I've been searching for a long time. I still have hope. I'm gonna find my way home. I can see a little house on top of the hill, and I can smell the ocean, the salt in the air. And I can see you standing there; you're washing your car. And I can see California, the sun in your hair." - Bonnie Somerville, Winding Road

"But my heart cried out for you ... California, oh California, I'm comin' home. Gonna make me feel good, rock-n-roll band; I'm your biggest fan. California, I'm comin' home." - Joni Mitchell, California

"Out on the edge of the Western world, we're together again. Your faces feel like home, though we're far from my native land. It's good to be with you, friends. We sing songs just like old times. Music washes over us, like the waters of baptism, immersion in the moment, as long as we can make it last ... as long as we can make it last." - Zoubek and Bryant, Shifting Sand

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Wedding Banquets and Surprise Guests

"Then he said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.' Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests." - Matthew 22:8-10

Anna and I have recently been attending a Lutheran congregation in Pasadena, and like all good Lutheran churches the main thrust of the service comes during the Gospel reading. Today was no different, and we all rose to hear the reading of Jesus' parable about the wedding banquet in Matthew 22. It is a curious text, but the pastor handedly it deftly today - allowing the joy of grace and the complexity of human nature to remain equally stated and equally true. But what the pastor pointed out today that REALLY got my attention was in verse 10 where it plainly states that "both good and bad" filll the wedding hall after the official guests (i.e. - the privileged priests) violently refuse the King's invitation. As the pastor said, this is just one of the many illustrations of Jesus' willingness to go out of his way to invite the outcasts and sinners into his fellowship.

However, there were other elements of the service that reinforced this message time and again. For instance, the church has two large banners in the front of the sanctuary with one of them reading, "Everyone is welcome." Likewise, the opening hymn of the liturgical service always begins with the refrain, "All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place." Or again, the Apostle's Creed is read after the sermon, which boldly proclaims that Jesus descended into hell (a definite act of triumph but perhaps also reconciliation).

The attitude of the whole service is very clearly about new life, grace, unity and love - even if these words are never said directly. It is quite enriching and encouraging to be saturated by such good things. But, this morning, I was particularly struck by the communion meal, which is celebrated every Sunday in the Lutheran tradition. It is but ONE more example of new life, grace and love, and today it captured my attention. For one, it struck me because of the unity it symbolizes (or actualizes depending on your views) between God and God's people as well as with the unity of believers. I took great comfort this morning knowing that friends and family share this meal with me on a monthly basis. It helped eliminate a disconcerted feeling of unconnectedness. It is one element of life that I genuinely feel can transcend distance.

And secondly, the communion meal struck me because of how radically different it is - how much it reveals about God's character. Here I must back up to Matthew 22 and Jesus' parable about the wedding feast. It is indeed a parable about grace, but unfortunately it is also a parable about human stubborness, and how often humanity feels it can do without God (ala the Grand Inquisitor). Indeed, the religious people God had originally intended to celebrate the upcoming wedding are the very ones who are seeking to ruin the party. This is where the pastor's words jumped out at me. He said this parable illustrates two trends: human beings who get so wrapped up in deciding right and wrong that they dismiss and vilify God's servants OR a God whose power and mystery is so great that He is able to overcome evil and injustice and still create a celebration. One could easily view the whole Bible in this light. I do.

When the communion meal is taken in accordance with the second trend, than it becomes a meal of God's victory. It is meal which celebrates redemption and reconciliation. It is also fundamentally different than many other ideas of how God is pleased. Instead of the need to satiate or feed God with our obedience, enemy blood, or moral living, it is about the desire to satiate or feed us with God's grace and love; the humble King wins out.

These were good things for me to remember today. I hope they are for you too.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

You are what you purchase

So one of the "major issues" I said is confronting the church and culture is consumerism. Nothing too novel there, but thinking about consumerism has also got me thinking about my new job as a bank teller. No, I'm not going to launch into a diatribe about the ills of money or anything like that, just an observation.

More and more, people seem to be characterized by numbers and statistical information about how they behave. The best example I can think of are the financial statements people receive from their banks or credit cards. And as much as I would like to deny the value of these statements, I cannot help but feel they speak volumes about people. Take for instance the following:

Date Transaction Description Amount
09/01 POS Target T0776 Pasadena CA -42.32
09/02 ATM withdrawal Pasadena CA -40.00
09/02 Trader Joe's #179 Pasadena CA -33.48
09/03 Deposit 200.00
09/04 Check #789: Rent -750.00

From these five meager transactions, anyone can gauge something about our life in Pasadena. You would know at least one or more specific places where we were on specific dates, as well as general shopping trends. Over time, such records would also indicate larger patterns of behavior. So much so that it would not be impossible to figure out - say after six months - what are the general patterns of our lifestyle: grocery shopping on Saturdays, rent payment at the first of the month, favorite stores, impulse buys or weakness areas, etc.

Again, I have nothing important to say on this. I just wanted everyone to know (most importantly family) that from now on I will not be emailing, writing or calling. I will simply make a copy of my bank statements and mail them to you at the end of the month. I'll leave the deducing and generalizing up to you, but feel free to call when you see transactions occurring in Thailand or purchases from Babies 'R Us.


354763 (aka Wes Kendall's bank number)

p.s. - just kidding about the bank number, I'm not that out of it.

A Little Help From My Friends

Alas, after completing seminary, I have dreams of an endless future complete with no more written assignments. But just when I begin to taste this freedom, along comes another assignment. The latest task is to write a series of essays to be included in my resume for the Presbyterian Church (USA). They're not big, mind you, but to lighten the severity of the blow I am hoping to get a little feedback on one of the questions, which is: What are the key theological issues currently facing the church and society, and how do they shape your ministry?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject, so please feel free to post a comment. Feel free to also deride my own answers as ridiculous, philosophical or so much blah, blah, blah (see below).

I believe recent history in America has shown a blurring between church and culture, especially regarding political and social issues. And while I do believe it is important for the church to work for the transformation of society, I also believe this cannot be done without maintaining Christian distinctives. Maintaining these particulars is done, I believe, by keeping the modern church linked to the historical Church. This belief shapes my own ministry in that I support older practices in worship. I do not believe these are the sole source of worship, but I do believe they are not to be omitted. Thus, my ministry will be intent on preserving the Reformed tradition even as I seek to address 21st Century issues.

Another significant issue facing the church and society is consumerism. It is becoming ever more convenient to view the world as a place of exchange and personal welfare. And in such a world, the idea of covenant and the life of discipleship are being challenged by the idea of contract and the life of buyer/seller. Thus, it is extremely important that the church maintain Christian worship as a life of devotion, not an experience to be consumed. Therefore, my ministry will be intent on uplifting Christianity as a new life and faith as an act of discipleship. I will also encourage or challenge people to be consumed by Christ rather than “consuming church” as a moral or social action.

yada yada ...


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Duncan's Finest

"The big thing I've noticed about political assassinations is how my older brothers admired a politician named Lincoln and somebody shot him and one named Gandhi and somebody shot him and two named Kennedy and somebody shot them both and one named Martin Luther King and somebody shot him too. Then I noticed how first President Johnson and now President Nixon pretty much talk gibberish and lie like rugs and all my older brothers except Irwin hate them. But nobody shoots them. So creeps survive. That's my main political theory. Satan takes care of his own is what I believe, whereas look what God did to His only Son." - David James Duncan, "The Brothers K"

Taken at face value, living a righteous life devoted to truth, love and peace-making is a perilous decision. It is not unusual to see the person who stands up for the right cause overwhelmed by the mass of people dedicated to mediocrity, injustice or even brutality. It is as if the world we live in is radically determined to prohibit progress ... as if there is a great centripetral force pulling all benevolent persons back into the status quo.

It's sad, but it's also not that surprising to me. The reality is that a righteous person automatically confronts all of society with a dillema. By taking a step towards righteousness, they take a step away from mediocrity and present another alternative. Individual, righteous actions present a crisis for all others.

I saw a great example of this recently on the new tv show, "My Name is Earl." The story is about Earl's decision to turn his life around - do something positive, right his wrongs, make peace with those he has injured. One of his very first acts of reformation was to pick up trash and thereby eliminate his guilt from years of littering. Earl's intentions were truly virtuous. Unfortunately, they were also threatening. Earl happened to be picking up trash at a hotel, and a housekeeper quickly took offense to Earl's actions. Not only was Earl doing her job, he was also raising the expectations of her manager. He was threatening her job security and indirectly pushing her to raise her own behavior and standards.

Now just imagine someone trying to right a serious wrong, such as racial prejudice or political corruption. The voices of dissent and objection would be many. The resistance would be tremendous. It is like the many images of horror movies which show demons or otherwise evil forces seeking to "take hold," "grasp," or "seize" women and children. These are not merely fictional themes, but spiritual realities which Dante choose to highlight in "Inferno"; diabolical forces are intent on keeping people restrained and confined (just as the devil perpetually holds himself back). Perhaps that is why the devil tempted Adam and Eve in the garden: if he knew that he was already fallen, why not seek others to keep him company. For misery does love company, just as there is no hell like the one you have to suffer alone. Consequently, it's terrible to say, but often true: it's much easier to kill the godly than follow them. That's what Duncan's quote above illustrates and what history teaches us.

But, the challenge to live a godly life will not go away. Virtuous behavior is still required by God, which leaves us with the unending, persistent task of walking the difficult road. Contrary to the hellish images of a frozen, atrophied existence, the godly actions of liberating people, creating beauty and seeking excellence must go on. And I think the greatest way to get there is to follow in the footsteps of those who died dreaming of another way of life, not by following the rules and codes of fearful leaders who spend more time addressing the evil in the world than the good that's left to be done.


Monday, September 26, 2005

1,000 of words in images

Well, we do live in the 21st century and all, so woe be it to me if I simply make this blog an archaic "text" only page ...

Pictures are now available for viewing: just click the links on the sidebar, and be sure to check out "The Fish." It comes courtesy of my dad, who generously took me up to Michigan for a fishing trip. It was a great couple of days - enjoying nature's finest, catching up with my dad, and making a few memories along the way.

I'll be back with more in a bit,


Friday, September 23, 2005

The Webs They Weave

"That he did not finish his studies is true, but to say that he was stupid or dull would be a great injustice. He entered upon this path only because, at the time, it alone struck his imagination and seemed to offer ... a means of escape for his soul from darkness to light ... He was to some extent a youth of our past generation - that is, honest in nature, desiring the truth ... believing in it, and seeking to serve it at once with all the strength of his soul, seeking for immediate action, and ready to sacrifice everything, even life itself. These young men unhappily fail to understand that the sacrifice of life is, in many cases, the easiest sacrifice of all." - Fyodor Dostoevsky, "The Brothers Karamazov"

Say what you want about Dostoevsky - he is verbose, complicated, rambling, etc. - but I have always loved his ability to spin some of the most eloquent, intriguing and profound sentences in any literature I have ever read. I use the above quote as a classic example. You almost have to read it three or four times and even then you can't really be sure if it is speaking jibberish or speaking the most hidden secrets that may very well give you life or at least prolong your death. The point is good sentences and good writers are generally able to move you forward - into the story - and make every word, every sentence completely believable and engaging. So what I gain from actually reading such quotes is usually irrelevant because more often than not Dostoevsky is capable of convincing me he is writing something profound if not prophetic. And, as in the quote above, he leaves me asking, "So you say, but why is the sacrifice of a life an easy alternative for a young man?" Right there, the author has me hooked; the writer is begging me to contradict him or at least read a little further and see if his theory holds true. And the truly great stories are able to keep leading the reader on and on - continually pulling with bold assertions, stunning events and unresolved conflicts.

These past two weeks I have been immersed in two "stories," which are doing this cat-and-mouse game with me ... and doing it very well! The first is a book by a splendidly talented author named David James Duncan - someone Brad Smith had recommended to me over two years ago. The book is titled "The Brothers K," and is essentially Dostoevsky's 19th Century novel edited and updated to address the social realities of 1960's America and how these realities play out in one specific family. Duncan's novel shows how social unrest in greater America manifests itself uniquely and tragically in the Chance family. And like Dostoevsky, Duncan uses any subject to keep his story going - from baseball to religion (all of them), Vietnam to Oregon, sex to prayers. And somehow, he manages to weave many events which would otherwise seem ridiculous into the perfect connection. It makes you - the reader - believe entirely that the place a certain character is at on page 374 is completely genuine and appropriate given what happened on page 34. Seemless. As I said, Duncan is talented; he is brilliant, and I highly recommend his stuff. (however, be advised that he does not shy away from using vulgarities, which I read more as an artistic tool to enhance his characters than as senseless. I haven't finished the book yet, but I'm guessing Duncan's overall stance is that the sacred and profance are often found closer than we'd care to imagine. Thus, it is not too surprising to find a saint right alongside a sinner, or a great truth buried in very crass language.)

Anyhow the second story that is keeping me begging for more is the television show "Lost." Anna and I recently bought season 1, and we also watched the opening episode of season 2 last night. Hey, there's a lot of junk on television these days, but "Lost" is just plain good drama. Here's to J. J. Abrams and all the other writers who have pieced together an impossibly addictive show out of random events and characters! Of course, the Calvinist that I am cannot help but love the character Lock, but really all of it is great. And I attribute much of its success to its ability to (a) create mystery and tension in the drama which all but forces you to watch and (b) gives enough assurance and answers that it is not simply a wild goose chase. Overall good drama is able to create intrigue through suspense or creativity and also to provide some return on the reader's or viewer's investment. Like life overall, everyone wants to know deep down that a story is both intriguing enough to pursue and meaningful enough to enjoy. Let's just call it the yin and yang of mystery and purpose - the passive female principle being pursued by the active male principle of the universe if you will. Whatever it is, it seems to be an absolute must for good stories.

I'm just tremendously thankful I'm being pulled into two of these webs nowadays. Great stories seem to enrich everything else in my life, and the further I chase the rabbit into the hole, the deeper and richer the world appears.



Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Saturated Streets

Ah, the sounds outside my window are exotic for Southern California: raindrops slap onto the pavement and trickle down the side of the Madison Lanai. The occasional car rushes by and creates a temporary rush of water. Los Angeles is being saturated by water, a rare, enjoyable event. But what makes a Los Angeles storm fascinating to me is that the rain seems to fall efforstlessly from a wet pool somewhere far above. Even more surprising, there seems to be little or no wind with this storm. So, rather than the rain coming in at an angle like the storm that blows across the midwest during August, this rain just descends. It is also rhythmically persistent and allows my soul and thoughts to relax. It gives a healthy cessation to the flurry of activities that so frequently dominate this landscape and culture - a naturally produced sabbath break.

Against such a backdrop, I offer a friendly, casual hello. I'll leave it at that for now.