Sunday, December 31, 2006

Rich Dwellings

Resolutions: Baptisms and New Year’s

The previous three Sundays, we – as a congregation – have participated in a holy, wonderful grace. We have witnessed three successive Sundays of baptisms, where our church family has added four children into our community of faith. And in every baptism, our common hope was that the child would experience definitively the love of God.

However, something else occurred these past three Sundays – something that seems all too appropriate for New Year’s Eve: resolutions were made. During every single baptism, you saw and heard parents of young children resolve to rely on God’s grace, to live out their faith in Christ and to pass on their faith to their children. And, lest you forget, you – the community of mentors, teachers, and friends – also made some resolutions: to guide and nurture these children, to encourage these children to follow Christ and to be faithful members of this church.

Just like millions of people are doing today or will do this next week, we made resolutions.

Resolutions Past and Present

New Year’s resolutions have been around for centuries. In fact, my wife heard a radio clip this week detailing are earliest reliable resolutions – written out by Roman citizens around 180 A.D. They are (not surprisingly) very familiar to us: to get along better with their neighbors, to help the poor and to improve their bodies. The more things change…

When we make New Year’s resolutions, we sometimes shoot for the moon with lofty goals like the Romans: to be more loving or giving. But, many of us strive after more practical matters: trimmer waists or healthier diets. We decide to save more money, read more books, or watch less television. The thought is that if we can bring a couple small areas of concern under control, we will be well on our way to reforming our whole life.

The resolutions we make during a baptism, however, are the exact opposite; they are grand – like the Roman resolutions of old. It makes sense, too, because baptism is not about minor changes. Baptism is a major life-overhaul – more akin to the type of resolution you make on a deathbed versus the ones you make on New Year’s Eve. For it is during baptism we come clean – confess how inadequate is our current make-up. We acknowledge that we don’t just need a new plan to make ourselves better. We need a whole new way of being who we are. We need to be resolved to live differently. Or as Paul tells us in Colossians 3, we need a brand new wardrobe – new threads, new garments – something more appropriate for the new life given to us through Christ and salvation. We need new clothes.

What are Clothes?

Clothes – the materials we place on our bodies – are telling. Clothes inform us of the type of priorities we have, the type of income we have at our disposal, the type of activities we enjoy. Clothes speak volumes about who we are or who we are not. They speak through their labels, through their trends, through their brands, and sometimes they speak directly with words splattered on the front of our t-shirts.

Clothes are more than just 80% cotton and 20% nylon. Clothes – especially if worn by a celebrity – are popularity or success or wealth or luxury or sex. And, whether we are bold to admit it or not, many of us form opinions of persons based on the clothing they wear … or don’t wear.

The truth is clear: what we put on ourselves speaks volumes for who we are.

Trying to Clothe Myself in Riches

When I got to jr. high school, I started to realize the power clothes have in creating our self-image. Previously, in the first eleven years of my life, Christmas meant only one thing: toys and video games. But jr. high changed my Christmas modus operandi.

During my adolescent years I awoke to the reality that our clothes can define our image. I realized in the cruel hierarchy of popularity, fashion was the key currency, and I realized that popularity didn’t allow for thrift stores or hand-me-downs. And with those realizations pounding in my brain, I began to see Christmas as a desperate attempt to revamp my wardrobe. So it was that over time I stopped asking for G. I. Joe’s, and I started asking for Gap Jeans. I thought I needed a new wardrobe.

But during those difficult jr. high years, what I was doing was clothing myself with worldly threads. I was putting on envy and greed. And I was falling prey to the subtle, yet lethal belief in our culture that we can make ourselves more attractive or more luxurious depending on the clothes we wear, the car we drive, the home we live in. Our culture wants us to believe we are only one small possession, only one small New Year’s resolution away from completely revamping our life – that if we can change the exterior of our lives, we can live richly.

Well, baptism takes this mentality and smashes it on the ground – breaking it into a million pieces. Baptism reminds us that richness is not something worldly or materialistic that we can adorn ourselves with. Baptism is about being stripped of our worldly threads.

Being Stripped so that We Might Be Rewarded

In one of the more liberal days of Christianity – back in say 300 or 400 A.D. – it was not uncommon for Christians to be baptized in the nude. Yes, you heard me correctly.

First the children, then the men and finally the women – they were separated for obvious reasons. And once separated each group would be expected to take off their clothes, be immersed in water, and then afterwards they would be given a clean, white robe – symbolizing their newness of life. It was a way for them to enact the reality of God washing them clean of their sins and of their own resolve to live differently.

Although such a practice will not be initiated here anytime soon … or ever, the practice of being baptized “in the flesh” was wonderfully accurate based on what we are told to do in Colossians 3: take off your sins, be washed clean, and put on new clothes. Be stripped so that you might be rewarded with clothes of eternal brilliance. Put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and above all, love.

For being a Christian means being someone who is willing to abandon our old wardrobes and dress in entirely different threads. Being a Christian means being saturated in God’s love and being overwhelmed by God’s peace.

Richness results from Christ in us, not from Riches on us

The principle that is instructing Paul in Colossians 3 is also clear: richness results from Christ in us, not from riches on us. And so we are to be resolved to live richly from within.

But maybe the problem is that it is easier to fulfill our minor resolutions – to lose five pounds or save a few more dollars. It seems far easier to track our weight on a scale or our retirement accounts on the internet than it does trying to figure out if we are really experiencing Christ within us. And, then, of course, there is the reality that the glimmer of a new ring is more alluring than the gentleness of our spirit. The fabric of this world and its fleeting desires do seem to sparkle so!

Yet, there are things we can do to be better resolved in living our new life in Christ. We can forgive. It’s not easy, but it’s practical. We can think of someone we have hurt; we can address the pain; we can ask for their forgiveness. We can do that.

We can let peace rule in our hearts … even if it doesn’t rule throughout the world. We can breathe deeply – inhaling the lavish love of God.

We can give thanks … can’t we? We can give thanks for our health, for the provisions God gives us to survive and thrive: food and shelter, jobs and family. We can do that.

If we are truly bold, we can sing … not just on the inside but out-loud, like we sing when it’s just us in the car, driving down a country road on a sunny day.

And, finally, we can do all that we do in the name of Christ who has saved us. We can act in the name of the One who loved us enough to be stripped of all his glory. We can follow after our Savior, Jesus Christ, who did not dress himself in the fine linens of luxury but dressed himself in compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, … and … above all … LOVE!

We can do that. You can do that. I can do that.

Forgive. Be at peace. Give thanks. Sing songs of joy. Do all in the name of Christ Jesus.

Those are some good resolutions. That’s a start. So, go on, put on your new threads … you’ll be surprised at the rave reviews you will receive in the coming year.

To our God who dwells in us richly be all the glory forever. Amen.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

When the Power Goes Out

Our iMac has suffered its first major systems failure - something to do with the power source. We came back from our recent trip up to Indiana to visit family only to discover that we could not turn our computer back on. Consequently, we have been suffering and lamenting our limited life. This, of course, is the worst time of year to have a problem with your computer as the holidays provide a barrage of problems for getting any service. Yet, Apple is being rather generous in their support - a generosity I had to coax out of them during an hour long phone call this past Sunday.

Our problem with the computer is more than a technical frustration. It has also caused a host of anxieties and lamentations from inside our souls. To understand those deeper cries of frustration, though, you have to understand the background to our computer problem, so please allow me to fill you in with some details you will likely find trivial [problems are curious in that we think our own are the worst ever while other people's ills are always overblown; it's like the joke I heard: if I see somebody walking down the street, and they fall on their face ... well, that's comedy. But, if I'm walking down the street, and I fall on my face, well, that's tragedy.]

Anna and I were wise enough to purchase Apple's extended protection plan so that - when our computer did experience a minor or major glitch like all computers do - we would be able to get it resolved with relative ease and without any huge cost. Well, we bought the plan when we lived a fifteen minute walk from an Apple store, when we could have easily walked our computer into an Apple store to get it fixed. Fast forward to where we live now: Kentucky, which (groan) does not have an Apple store in the entire state! (Or, as the Apple customer service provider said with bewilderment: "huh, I didn't think that was possible. There ... are ... NO ... Apple stores in Kentucky." To which, I replied, "welcome to Kentucky.").

And, it just so happens that the Apple protection plan can only provide on-site service if you live within 50 miles of a service provider ... well, guess how many miles we live from a service provider: 60.6 to be exact! I was none too pleased (although also none too surprised) to discover this and to hear the phone service guy tell me I would have to take it to Louisville or Indianapolis to get it checked out. Well, after a few minutes of flat out admitting my disbelief and disgust, the gentlemen kindly went head over heels to line up an on-site visit. In the end, Apple proved itself to be what I had heard and hoped they were: kind and helpful.

And something else good came of the situation. Jonathan and Kendra graciously loaned us Jonathan's work computer - a Macbook - since they are away on vacation this week. It is extremely kind of them, but they said they understood the plight and misery of our condition. I try to tell myself this is how community is born.

I'm also writing right now because Wyatt is crying ... well, he was crying for the last forty-five minutes, but apparently the magical off-switch has been triggered somewhere in his brain. Wyatt happens to be a light sleeper, and any knock or bump in the night startles him into a crying fit that cannot be soothed. In short, he doesn't yet know how to put himself back to sleep ... There he goes again; sleep evades him still.

It bothers me that such little things trouble Wyatt so much ... but in the very writing of this blog I can't help but see the similarities between the way Wyatt bemoans an unsettling event in the night, and my own unrest and troubled soul that results from relatively minor hiccups in the course of my life.

I am also aware that part of what makes Wyatt's rest so delicate is that he has never been able to get enough sleep. Consequently, he invariably finds himself in desperate need of sleep while also too tired to rest well. It is a damnable condition. So, his crying because of a small bump in the middle of the night exposes more than just a minor nuisance. His crying reflects the deeper problem: his bodies inability to rest well.

So too my frustrations over minor things are symptomatic of much deeper burdens and anxieties in my soul. Why do I make mole hole problems into mountains? Is it a skewed sense of entitlement? Am I bothered that my life has become so limited? Am I worried about what would fill my life without the distraction of music or the internet? Something perhaps like silence.

But something deeper than all of that has been going on over the last few months. Anna and I have both sensed it. We are experiencing the classic signs of grieiving - to be expected after leaving California but nonetheless dramatic or difficult. I don't know exactly where we are right now in the grief process, but I know there is a lot of anger and despair at times. It is becoming ever more clear that we are not in Pasadena any more - a fact I will recall acutely when I wake up on New Year's Day and there is no parade moving boisteriously down the street. And day by day it seems we find more evidence that "this place" is not the place we have come to know and love ... not yet. This place, this newness, this quietness, this relative obscurity is so very not like the other place.

"Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit," Jesus said - revealing a great mystery of life and faith. But who really wants to die? And who can endure the terrible darkness of waiting to be reborn?

But, for this evening, until the dawn of the day, darkness is all I have. In time, new life will emerge. And Wyatt will grow out of his troubled patterns. But, not tonight. Tonight Wyatt is still crying ... troubled to the core. He cries for a disrupted night, filling the hollow halls of our house. And I listen, disrupted down below, waiting for a new day of peace and joy.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

100th Post!!! Shower me with Confetti!

If you're up for a good laugh, go to In their entertainment section, they have started a "focus group" of five random persons from different regions and walks of life in America: a pastor, a rapper, a college freshman, a seventh-grade girl, and a thirty-something business-woman. It's a riot. The seventh-grade girl apparently gets way too much allowance from her parents because she never turns a movie down. The pastor inevitably goes for the cup-cake, Disney films. And the business-woman seems the most reasonable.

But, far and away, my two favorites are the rapper and the college freshman. You should definitely read GLC's (the rapper's) opinion about Charlotte's Web and Apocalypto. The college freshman may be a good movie critic some day - tons of dry humor and irony in his terse comments.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Best of 2006: Music

Come Christmas, I usually amass a collection of tunes and burn them to a disc. They usually represent a “best of” cd, although the cd certainly doesn’t mirror the billboard chart for the year. In fact, the songs don’t even have to be from 2006. Rather, I gather those songs that made the deepest impression upon me or seemed to remain while others drifted back into obscurity.

So it is again this year. These are the fifteen songs I found myself tuned into throughout the year of 2006 – some are fairly popular, some mostly unheard of.

There were two strong trends that seemed to dominate the year of 2006: horns and guitars. The two together are classic elements of jazz and the blues, so it’s not surprising to find Coltrane and Quincy Jones on here. But sometimes the horns are left out in favor of the heavier, harder sounds of rock – represented here by the veterans (Rolling Stones) and the newbies (Coldplay). A number of the songs have really powerful guitar licks, too, as if the guitar itself were singing: Talk by Coldplay and Once Upon a Time There Was an Ocean by Paul Simon are wonderful examples.

Some of the rare finds include a song by Roger Miller, which I’ll share more about below and The Five Blind Boys of Alabama. Enough, though! On with the list:

1. The World at Large – Modest Mouse – Although not released in 2006, I didn’t start listening to this group until this year. It seems best as an introduction to 2006, since it includes many of the elements that dominated the 2005 musical year for me: digital effects and urban sounds mixed with chaotic, every-day lyrics. This song also begins with a subtle guitar riff – a facet it will share with many on this list.

2. Kentucky Rain – Elvis Presley - I bought a collection of 80 Elvis songs for this very song. I figured it was a must if I were moving to Kentucky to be a pastor. But there are all sorts of reasons to love this song – perhaps most importantly -- it is a good story. And, I just love the way Elvis songs fall and rise.

3. Miss You – The Rolling Stones – I’m into my fifth year of marriage, and the unity that builds – the oneness – is impossible to describe. This song is fabulous at explaining the yearning that builds in love. Being away from the one you love is a heart-wrenching emotion, one The Stones express well. (By the way, there is an incredible version of this song on the Austin Powers: Goldmember CD.)

4. Talk – Coldplay – There’s something chilly and stirring in the long-guitar that begins this song (like a cold winter’s wind blowing over a prairie), the same guitar which explodes when the drums come in. I dig this song because it reminds me of friends (brothers) and the comfort that comes from picking up the phone and opening up. I love how it descends at the end into the same haunting sound and the refrain, “Let’s talk.”

5. Little Green Apples – Roger Miller – I first heard this song driving on the 110 freeway headed into downtown Los Angeles. Add to that this classic line from the song, “If God didn’t make the little green apples, and it don’t rain in Indianapolis,” and it seemed to tie together perfectly two worlds I never imagined together: the world of 70-mph freeways in the heart of LA and the slow, summer sounds of Indiana.

6. In a Sentimental Mood – John Coltrane – When the soft-sparkle of piano becomes enveloped by smooth horns and drums, it’s hard not to be in a sentimental mood. This song is great at the end of the day, and I know it will be with me well beyond 2006. Best if enjoyed with a nice glass of wine or a cocktail. P.S.: listen for the last key of the piano at the end, classic.

7. King of Kings – Ladysmith Black Mambazo – I’ve already shared my love for Ladysmith Black Mambazo, so I will simply say this song is a great prayer. Somewhere between a praise and a lament, it lifts up God continuously as Sovereign, yet it is never detached from the plight of God’s Kingdom, which seems to suffer often in Africa. “Reveal yourself, reveal yourself from heaven!” is a wonderful cry, right up there with Maranatha!

8. God’s Gonna Cut You Down – Johnny Cash – Really 2005 was the year of Johnny Cash for me, but this song did not get released until July 4, 2006. I heard it originally on a trailer for a movie about sexual abuse and the Catholic Church. Yet as gloomy and dark as the song is, you can’t help but tap your toe. And there’s something of the Psalms in it with its desire for vengeance – e.g. Psalm 139:19-21.

9. By and By – The Five Blind Boys of Alabama – When I would listen to Moby spirituals (“Don’t Leave Me” or “In My Heart”) the past five or six years, I always wondered if it was possible to get to the roots of that music. “By and By” by the Blind Boys is as close as I’ve found – soul-full and some great emotion.

10. Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley – Until a few minutes ago, I swore this was the song in The Shawshank Redemption when Tommie arrives at the jail, but I was wrong (That was actually the Johnny Otis Band, “Willie and the Hand Jive”). Still, the similarities are amazing, and I love both of these songs. Bo Diddley’s self-titled song is full of – you guessed it – some great guitar. There’s a great “twang” to it that proves Bo knows best.

11. What If – Coldplay – Back to Coldplay and their neo-classical, gloomy-English rock. To me, this song is all about abandonment – abandonment of our most cherished gifts, our most beloved persons and – at a basic level – abandonment of life (“let’s take a breath, jump over the side”). It’s a song of agony and dread – something we all face from simply being human and facing endless decisions day-to-day. Life invariably forces us to ask, “what if?” But, behind all the elemental darkness, this song also seems to hint at another reality – a more positive one: life can only be enjoyed if we dare to answer the “what if’s” with commitment and a healthy abandonment.

12. Oh Happy Day – Quincy Jones – The first time I heard this song was last week during the movie Rize! The version on the soundtrack is much harder – an effected, hyped-up version of a classic Gospel choir song originally crafted by Edwin Hawkins up in the Bay Area back in the 60’s. The version I have is jazzier, and the lyrics of the song are replaced at the beginning with a funky melody complete with keyboard and flute. This song is quickly becoming a great reminder of Wyatt’s birth-day. It begins sunny and light – like the day Wyatt was born. Then in the middle it is interrupted by an explosion of choral joy, winds down again, rises one final time, and then descends with a choir singing “oh happy day.” Such are the elations of parenthood – sometimes subtle and soft, other times ecstatic and day-bright!

13. Once Upon a Time There Was an Ocean – Paul Simon – The master singer-songwriter-storyteller was back at it again in 2006 releasing Surprise. There were other songs on this cd that were bigger hits – none bigger than “Father & Daughter.” But, the song I invariably played over and over again in my car was this one. Again, a guitar riff creates this songs power – coming in after the song has already begun and changing dramatically the tone. Paul Simon is also the master at colliding the casual, ordinary aspects of daily-life with the global, elemental forces of creation. And, in this song, he contrasts the angst many modern people have as they struggle to “get outta here” versus the great powers that shape our world over large spans of time. Or, as he says, “Nothing is different, but everything has changed.” Brilliant.

14. Green Onions – Booker T. & The MG’s – Being young means you think cool things can only exist in the future. Steadily, I’m learning that there is plenty of cool to be derived behind us. Case in point: “Green Onions.” This is a hip song, man, and made even hipper by the fact that it is an organ, a bass guitar and a guitar. That’s it.

15. That’s All Right – Elvis Presley – You can listen to this song and know – and feel – why The King swept the nation with his pulsating rhythms. It is short enough to make you want to play it multiple times in a row. I can’t ever play it just once. I don’t know how to explain this song except to say it is great music, full of kick.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

To Live and Die in OB

I needed a snack a few nights ago, and decided that one of Wes’ oranges sounded good. Can I just tell you how NOT good that California orange was? I lamented to Wes about the horrible blandness of the road-weary fruit; I knew what an orange SHOULD taste like – but sadly, most people living here in the Midwest probably don’t. This small tirade brought me back to a daily dilemma I now face…how to eat in a way that’s healthy and yet socially responsible while living in the Midwest? Is it even possible? I don’t want to buy produce shipped half-way across the country, not only because of the lack of flavor after sitting on a truck for God knows how many days (weeks!), but also because of the energy required to get that one crappy orange onto my kitchen counter. However, I also know the importance of a healthy diet, rich in produce. I love making bread and all, but we can only eat so many muffins.

Perhaps I was spoiled living in Southern California-- Gran was right about that – I dream of the Pasadena farmer’s market nightly. But now that we live in the middle of NOWHERE, where NOTHING is in season for 5 months out of the year, I’m up a creek without a paddle. I try to buy frozen or dried fruit and veggies now, hoping they were at least picked in season, but even those have been shipped from - in all likelihood - California.

Now that we are settled in our house, I plan on spending much of next summer canning and freezing what I can get from the local farmer’s market or plant in our back yard. But these next few months will most definitely be dark ones for me. I’m open to suggestions.


Thursday, December 14, 2006


Wyatt is in his leisure suit today - a nice tan and brown velour material that has some baby-blue accents throughout. He is straight up chillin' anytime he wears the velour suit. Now all we need is nice bit of bling-bling for his fingers and neck.

As Anna was feeding Wyatt yesterday morning, three cop cars pulled up to a house two doors down from us. The cops arrived rather casually, so it didn't seem like an emergency. But a few minutes later the cops came out of the house with a man in handcuffs. They proceeded to place the man in the back of one of the cop cars and drove off.

It has been unusually warm here the last three days. Our yard, which was dying a slow winters death has come back to life in various places - including a small flower garden that we reduced to bare soil on Thanksgiving weekend. Now there are little green shoots and leaves poking through the soil, helped along a great deal by the early morning sun that falls upon the back of our house.

For some mild exercise lately, I've been going out into this backyard and playing quarterback challenge. Quarterback challenge means I'm setting up two targets - a big green plastic bin for storage and one of the moving boxes that hauled our stuff from Pasadena to the Midwest - and than trying to hit them as though I were in the super bowl. It's ridiculous, but it's either that or go jogging; I have trouble with the monotony of jogging.

Anna's giving Wyatt some food right now - some pear and carrot juice. I'm afraid the carrot juice has stained his velour suit. What a shame. But Wyatt doesn't seem to care ... and that's how a little man in a leisure suit should be: chillin' and out-of-control.


Monday, December 11, 2006


Goodness, I love movies. Maybe not as much as Andy Ladow, and maybe not enough to know every single actor and every single film, but I like them enough to say movies play a vital role in shaping my understanding of self and others.

Movies are both a window into the soul and a projector onto the world. Not all movies, of course. There are enough Gigli’s and Returns of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (don’t ask Matthew McConaughey or Renee Zellwegger about that early career nightmare) to prove that it doesn’t take much more than a manageable budget, a flimsy plot and a few recognizable names to turn some rolls of film into a movie.

But forget the crap. I love movies, and when I say that, I mean I love artistic, well thought-out, beautifully shot, sharp, witty, engaging, this-has-something-to-say-to-you movies. Be it a documentary, a drama, a comedy or a thriller, anything will do – so long as the picture before my eyes is alive with suspense or mystery or imagination or irony. Let me see art in and through the media of film.

Let me see movies like Rize more often.

In Rize, a documentary that came out in 2005, there is a scene of such carnal beauty and transcendent emotion that you will find yourself reduced to joy and pain. The joy comes in witnessing the God-given grace of dance – specifically dance embraced and enacted by every muscle of the human body. The pain also arises out of the human form and it is just as profound; it is the pain of knowing that even at our height – our glory – we are dancing before a descending sun, destined for nothing more than ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Watch the movie; you’ll know what I’m talking about. Listen for Christina Aguilera’s “Soar.” You’ll find your spirits lifted and waiting for the chorus of the song to kick in.

In general, the movie is about a new type of dance called clowning or krumping, which is emerging in south central Los Angeles. The movie begins innocently enough with the introduction of Tommy the Clown, one of the originators of this new movement, showing up at a neighborhood birthday party in his tricked-out clown car (not Barnum’s variety) and breaking it down in the middle of the street. Tommy explains that clowning began rather haphazardly when someone needed an entertainer for a party, and, wham, Tommy the Clown was born. As word spread of Tommy’s warmth with kids and inspiring message (Tommy was able to turn his back to violence and drugs looming on every corner), clowning became an anti-gang activity, a way to move against the troubling forces that have brought so many others under.

But just as Tommy sought a way to express creatively a different energy besides the hate and pride of gangs, others soon let the new dance wrap itself around all that the streets breath and soak. Clowning became krumping – a much harsher, intense, furious dance. Picture Westside Story meets Boyz ‘n the Hood. Someone in the documentary calls the new dance “ghetto ballet,” and it is a perfect description – all the anger, all the pressure and strife, injustice and desire clashing … using arms and torsos, legs and eyes to convey meaning through movement. There is a scene early in the film of a group of young African-American women re-enacting a police beating, doing so rhythmically and redefining my understanding of interpretive dance. In other scenes, the dancers make you squirm with the raw, brutally frank expression of sexual potency – again smacking you with a reality that cannot be ignored or escaped on these streets.

The whole time I was watching this film I longed to krump. Every sane part in me shouted that there was no way in Hades I could (there are some things my white-guy knees and back will never master, and this is at the top of the impossible list), but even that did not stop my spirit moving within. I wanted to taste the deep burn of expending every bit of oxygen in my lungs and tissue. I wanted to sense the community and drama in releasing a new move, displaying a new message. I wanted to triumph in a clash not of fist but of balance and theatrics.

And, again and again, I found myself absorbed by the deep irony and tragedy of the dance – the fever-pitch action and force, which ultimately expends itself as a silent scream in a world full of gun shots and police sirens. In the end, several krumpers are shown in one symbolic and artistic scene: in a concrete ravine (part of the urban-artery known as the Los Angeles River), they dance and glisten in their sweat, thrusting their arms in unleashed passion, their abs sculpted into the commands of their bodies. They are tireless in their effort, occasionally slowed for drama by the camera. The presiding effect: the dance is their life; their soul released before it can be swallowed by drugs or senseless violence. It is a desperate dance, an angry gesture, and, still, it is full of sensuality. It says as the sun descends: I have not yet died. Turn up the music; the dance must grow stronger.


Thursday, December 07, 2006


Advent is about having your breath taken away. It is about being awed by wonderful news. It is about having a God-message rush into the world, taking command of your senses, filling your lungs and your soul, – just like the first Advent when people learned God was coming to them.

In the first Advent people found themselves taking deep breaths of startled joy – confounded by the most bizarre and yet amazing promises, stopped in their tracks by God-news, still and silent beneath the glow of glory.

There was Zechariah and Elizabeth: shocked to discover they would be parents when they had turned their thoughts to retirement. There was Joseph: unsure yet faithful, listening to the voice in his dreams rather than the gossip of the crowd. There was Mary: overwhelmed with a gift too impossible to speak, too beautiful to keep to herself.

And there were angels, lots of angels – visiting and overwhelming and speaking and shining and bringing the glad news that takes all our collective breath away: God is going to be with us – Emmanuel. God is going to dwell in the homes of men and women, eat the fruit of this land, drink the water of this earth. Emmanuel.

So, the first Advent was a season of preparing for God to be with us, but how do you prepare for that? Do you start cleaning every square inch of your modest home? Do you begin preparations for an elaborate meal? Do you invite friends and family? How do you welcome the Ruler of the Universe into your kitchen?

Well, thankfully, for Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph this “God with us”-news was so awesome, so astounding that preparing for God was not front and center. They were too wrapped up in receiving, too concerned with having their hopes fulfilled, their fears eased. The good news of God coming to them kept them in a state of constant wonder, transfixed by miracle.

But are we still awe-struck by Advent? Do we still find ourselves overwhelmed by the good news that awaits us? Or has our attention been sabotaged by all the lists that dominate these days: grocery lists and shopping lists, to-do lists and Christmas card lists? Are we drowning beneath all the voices that fill our Advent season: the voices of holiday jingles and weekend sales, the voices of economic theorists and weather forecasters? Well, all that is enough to give you a big, throbbing headache, but Advent is about soul-stuffing, not head-cramming. What we really need is silence; we need our collective breath taken away.

So maybe it is best just to ask: has Advent taken your breath away yet? Have you been struck dumb by the wonder and glory that God is going to be with us? Have you paused to see the angels dancing in our midst, happy with God-news, announcing God’s daring plan?

You cannot prepare, cannot do enough to make sense of the wonder before us. God with us. Emmanuel. Let silence and song carry us into this miracle for God is coming, and the world will shortly be startled by joy and lost in love.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


I ate grits today, never before and perhaps never again. Actually, they were cheese grits.

Grits, I came to find out, are a product of corn - somehow being reduced from crop to grain to paste and usually suffocated by butter or cheese. Today, the grits died in a pool of cheese. They never stood a chance.

Did you also know that the public transportation (little shuttles usually reserved for Car rental companies when they pick you up or drop you off at the airport) of Owensboro is known as GRITS: Green River Inter(?) Transportation System? Splendid.

Grits: Ride it, drown 'em, love 'em!


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Old Man Winter and Me

Today had an ominous feeling to it, as though winter were hiding around a corner like one of the Spy vs. Spy characters. The Dark Spy actually.

For the last week it has been unseasonably warm in Owensboro, and everyone has been talking about it as if we are operating on borrowed time - as though we were all children and our parents had dropped us off at the mall with $20 but told us they would be back to get us in five minutes. Temporarily we are turned loose to enjoy all, but our joy quickly sours when we realize time is not on our side.

I guess there is this unspoken assumption in the Midwest that all good things must come to an end eventually, which partly explains everyone’s mixed emotions about the good weather. Everyone was happy to talk about it, but there was this unspoken fear permeating the conversation. People know what lies on the other side of seventy-degree days in November. There is a cost to be paid for such blessings – specifically freezing rain and grey in fifty tones come late December.

Winter is a reality Anna and I are becoming accustomed to again, and truthfully it makes me nervous. I got into a conversation with someone the other day about the dreariness of February in particular, the long, empty days of winter when the sun seems more of a myth than a reality. She said that it’s all she can do to make it through the month. Another person said they just plan on doing some major project around the house during February, turn on all the lights and play inspiring music – good for the soul, terrible for the electric bill. But, I totally understood. I’m already trying to plan for how I will get through this winter, as though I need to prepare for a nuclear winter rather than just a normal season.

But winter isn’t just another season. That’s my point. As far as seasons go winter is the only one I can remember that is personified, and for good reason. You don’t hear people talking about Young Lady Spring or Wise Father Fall (which would good fun now that I think of it), but Old Man Winter is a different. Old Man Winter – what with his icy-blue, buffed up cheeks and hair like icicles – is a first cousin of the Grim Reaper. He seems to stalk more than walk. And if Old Man Winter does walk he inevitably just stirs up big drafts of cold air and perhaps a few snowdrifts with his long, white robe.

When Old Man Winter first comes around, people don’t really care much. They’re too caught up in another old man – the jolly fat-guy full of warmth: Santa. But as soon as Santa high-tails it up to the North Pole, there isn’t any more warmth to carry us through.

Perhaps I am treating Old Man Winter too harshly though. Maybe I’m giving Santa all the perks and Old Man Winter the short end of the stick. Russians, after all, believe that Old Man Winter, known as Morozko, is the very same Santa. But, then again, many Russians live in places like Siberia, and if you don’t make friends with winter, there really isn’t much to live for.

I, on the other hand, haven’t weathered twenty-degree weather for more than twenty-four hours the last four years. The only time I saw snow last winter was when I drove into and out of the Rockies. We slept in a warm hotel room, had breakfast with Drew, Anna’s brother, snapped a few pics for memories outside in the parking lot, and that was it.

This year, though, there won’t be any escaping it. There will be icy puddles, and salt on sidewalks. There will be scrappers for windshields, layers for warmth, and slush on streets.

Yeah, like I said, winter seems to be hiding around the corner tonight as the rain becomes heavy and the air becomes stiff - just like the Dark Spy, ready to unload a lethal trick upon my unprepared self. Go easy on me this year Old Man Winter. I can’t take much. I’m still use to palm trees and endless sunshine in January. And, if you get a chance, you might want to say hello to Friendly Brother Summer. I know you two haven’t ever hit it off, but I’m telling you, people tend to enjoy him all year round. I can’t say the same for you.


Wyatt Loves Avocados ...

... although here he is eating prunes, which he also enjoys.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Wanted: Boxed or Unwrapped!

For the first time I am issuing a bounty! Let it be known from this day forth that there is a bounty for the following three dvd sets: The Simpsons: season 4, Star Wars: episodes 4,5, & 6, Indiana Jones: 4 disc set. I have no freakin' idea where these three dvd sets disappeared to, but it all dates back to our move from Pasadena to Owensboro. So, either (a) the moving men knew precisely where my weakspot was and how to send me into frantics or (b) I threw them away amongst heaps of moving paper and cardboard boxes. But, let me just say that I don't think I threw them away.

So, if anyone knows their whereabouts, please contact me. I will honor the bounty: $15!


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ailments Avoided, Colds Caught

It's been a good while since the last update. We really haven't been busy. Truthfully, I don't know what has happened to the last few weeks. Lots of settling still going on for us, and lots of days where we still wind up exhausted.

Our whole household officially has a cold now. Anna was the last line of defense, but she caved today. Likely, I gave it to Wyatt and Wyatt to Anna. But, we're fighting it the best we can with herbal teas, Vic's Vaporizers and lots of cold-eezes.

I can't seem to stay warm. My extremities are continually cold. I don't know how we are going to make it through the winter. In fact, we just got a heating bill for $150. This was astounding! Our biggest heating bill in Pasadena was something like $35. Anyhow, we've dropped the temperature in our house to keep us out of the red, but this is only going to keep my in slippers and scarfs all winter.

We do have something to be thankful for: Wyatt, who happened to swallow one of Anna's ear-rings, managed to avoid any serious harm by passing the ear-ring through his entire digestive system. Anna found it after one of his explosive poos, ending a mystery of where her ear-ring disappeared to. This single event was strangely funning and strangely distressing. How close we came to surgery we will never know!?


Monday, November 06, 2006

Preaching Well, Living Poorly

Ted Haggard stepped down as both pastor of his Colorado Springs congregation and as the president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He did so amidst allegations of drug use and a sexual relationship with another man. The tremendous irony and hypocrisy of the president of the NAE engaging in homosexual acts – the same man who served as a spokesman for “biblical marriage” and against homosexuality – was guaranteed to garner national media attention, so you’ve probably seen or read the news. It caught my eye for those reasons as well.

Two other events in my own life this past weekend also helped keep Ted Haggard at the front of my thoughts. For one, vacation is providing me opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a pastor – seeing as I am one now. While I have done church work before, this is the first time I have done so with my name on the outside of a church and with the title Reverend. And while I would consider myself to be of a different mold than Ted Haggard, we are both pastors and both susceptible to similar stresses. Even more, like Ted Haggard I too claim a Christian evangelical faith, and if you were to check out the statement of belief for the National Association of Evangelicals (, it wouldn’t look too different than the statement of belief of Fuller Theological Seminary where I received my education for ministry. The similarities are too similar to ignore. It would be foolish of me to assume Ted Haggard’s story is far beyond the trajectory of my own journey.

The second event that kept me thinking about Ted Haggard this weekend was church. Normally, where I go to church is a no brainer: where I serve as pastor. Vacation, though, presents the opportunity to attend different houses of worship, and this past Sunday, Anna and I went to a non-denominational, evangelical mega-church – not too unlike the church where Ted Haggard was pastoring and preaching. There were several things of note at this church: large multi-media screens, praise music to welcome and begin worship (interestingly, only the large cast of lead singers at the front of the sanctuary stood while singing), and an American flag next to the Christian flag and just beneath the stained glass window.

All of these things are a far cry from the traditional, liturgical style of worship I lead and participate in weekly. That is not to say that the service we attended this past Sunday was wrong or unappreciated. There were several things that were attractive and valuable in the service – enough to keep Anna and I discussing over lunch yesterday. But, what particularly stuck with me was how long the sermon was and how much emphasis was placed on the preacher’s ability to decipher and speak for Scripture. The sermon was at least forty minutes long, and following the sermon there was also time for the pastor to answer questions members of the congregation had written on the back of prayer cards.

Thankfully, this minister was very faithful to the text – even though his text was the whole book of Leviticus and several other selections from the New Testament. Still, I am unsettled that so much of a worship service is given over to the preacher. I know I don’t have much room to speak here, because I claim to be a child of the Reformation. And one of the critical pieces of Reformation theology is the place of preaching in the worship service. The Reformation began a steady ascension of the spoken word that took off on American soil with the help of revivals and big tents. Today, it is impossible to conceive of American Christianity without a resolute, determined preacher somewhere at the head. But this is precisely what I’m trying to get to: pastors in America are too frequently appreciated (or disregarded) because of their ability to preach. To be a good pastor today is to be a good preacher. And people yearn to be members of churches where the preaching is solid, relevant, biblical, hopeful, transforming, or any number of other qualities that gets thrown around social conversations. Think about it. When word gets out a new pastor is coming into town, do you expect to first hear about the pastor’s new ministry amongst illegal aliens or battered women, or do you expect to hear about how good of a preacher the pastor is (or is not, which spells certain doom for his or her ministry)?

Ted Haggard is a good preacher. At least I assume so. There are over 10,000 people that are a part of his church, so there must be something about his preaching which is infectious. But, it is also clear that the ability to speak the good news does not lead to the ability to lead a Christ-like life. The two – speaking about Christ and living like Christ – do not always lead down the same path.

I don’t have much to offer in regards to a solution. Any solution I would offer would be narrow-minded or simplistic. But as I reflect and pray over this matter today, my sense is that part of the problem comes when Christians are reduced to spokesmen or voices for the faith.

So many ministers want to be as influential as Paul the spokesmen without being Paul the pastor. And, as I have found in the early season of ministry, it is much easier to be good at preaching (and much more appreciated) than it is to be good at serving others. Most people are not all that concerned about what pastors do with their life outside of Sunday morning (unless of course they see you doing something profane or scandalous). Many assume pastors only work one day a week, and even that is only a half-day of work. And many ministers are eager to make their sermons so impressive that people will at least give them lots of credit for their half-day of work.

My assumption is that many a pastor begins ministry hoping to serve and to do good things for the Lord – while also maintaining personal balance and health. Over time, though, it becomes clear that true service to the Lord and the Church will require a great deal of time, energy and very little notoriety. Meanwhile, being a voice for many is something others are frequently all too willing to bestow upon pastors – especially when it comes to matters of morality. So, instead of living out the Gospel with their lives – or letting the Gospel stand by itself – many pastors feel anxious and obligated to let their ministry be about what they say rather than how they behave on a day to day basis.

I’ve been looking for pastors who will teach me a different way to live and do ministry. They are out there. Eugene Peterson is one. Richard Foster is one. There are others. They are not easy to find, but even the few that I have found have been a tremendous oasis for me as a pastor and as a person.


Friday, November 03, 2006


Today begins my first week-long vacation since accepting the call to First Presbyterian Church of Owensboro. The day is full of bright sunshine, crisp air and the gentle display of autumn leaves cascading down upon our backyard - a great day to begin a vacation.

Wyatt continues to get better. Although, I did just wipe his nose and this never ending snot-trail kept on coming out of his nostril. It was like one of those magic tricks ("Illusions, Michael, they're illusions!") where one handkerchief becomes a string of sixty flowing out of a sleeve. But beyond those minor unpleasantries, Wyatt is breathing - and sleeping! - much better.

We are headed up to northern Indiana this afternoon. Anna has a friend from college who is getting married, so we will have a chance to be reminded of our own vows as we watch new ones expressed.

Hopefully, we'll also be able to take with us season 1, disc 2 of Twin Peaks. We are getting into the mystery that is the death of Laura Palmer. We watched the first two episodes and found ourselves both giggling and squirming - very bizarre, but also very good television. It is also clear Twin Peaks broke a lot of new ground and continues to shape a lot of shows and movies. A lot of the serial "crime-scene" shows today seem to rely heavily on Twin Peaks, and you can't watch the first five minutes of a Twin Peaks episode without thinking about Lost.

Good times,


Wednesday, November 01, 2006


We have just returned home from the hospital, where Wyatt spent his first All Hallow's Eve and started his All Saints Day. This, of course, was more than enough scare for Anna and I this year.

We took Wyatt to the pedetrician on Tuesday morning after suffering through two nights of negligible sleep. By early Tuesday morning Wyatt's breathing had definitely become very shallow and very labored. Anyhow, the short of the long is that the pedetrician recommended placing Wyatt in supervised care at the hospital for at least 24 hours. He also wanted to make sure Wyatt did not have pneumonia. Thanks be to God, he didn't.

Wyatt has progressed wonderfully the last 24 hours, and he is currently sleeping in his room. Of course, antibactorial medication and some steriods surely didn't hurt him at all. Anna and I were tremendously cautious about using such strong stuff on the little guy, but there really wasn't much we could do. And, honestly, I think we kinda lost our wits when the pedetrician first said, "I would suggest you put him in the hospital for at least the night." Boy, that's a sentence that has all sorts of gravity to it!

Anyhow, the official diagnosis was some sort of viral infection that moved rapidly from his head to his chest - perhaps a touch of bronchitis. We also talked with a nurse about the bad atmosphere of the Owensboro area - something about the humidity, tons and tons of pollutants being dumped into the Ohio River, and the presence of mold spores throughout. Makes me want to go outside for a quick jog, eh?

Please do keep our little guy in your prayers. Let's also pray that he isn't called before Congress anytime soon for his implications in the whole steriod scandal.


Monday, October 30, 2006


I always assumed parents with messy homes were a disgrace. Now, in light of the toys, shoes, various articles of clothing and dishes laying around our house, I must reconsider.

It’s Monday morning, and our house is a constant reminder of the whirlwind of a weekend we’ve just had. As I sit at the computer desk right now, I can see any number of crap laying around: sandals, receipts, playing cards, measuring tape, car seat, spoon, newspapers, dish towels and one lone red and white sock, which Wyatt pulled off sometime this morning. It’s anarchy here. It’s as if a tornado went through town last night, only it disregarded trees and roofs and headed directly indoors to 2240 Griffith.

There are plenty of excuses why our place is such a pit. We were busy every night of the weekend; we were constantly cooking for at least four people; we were so excited to discover Anna’s picture in the paper we lost track of the real world; we – uh, I mean I was so consumed with Notre Dame winning and USC losing I disregarded the more important tasks of a husband. But all of these are really poor excuses. We’ve managed to keep our domestic life somewhat in order before even with all of these events, temptations and distractions.

The real reason why our place has become the wreck of the Hesperus: Wyatt. Wyatt, you see, is now both teething and sick. At first, we thought he just had a runny nose from the teething, but last night he broke out in a full-on “struck-down-with-a-plague” cough. The poor little dude would only sleep for about thirty minutes to an hour before his nose would become plugged with mucus-delight. We tried to suction out the nastiness inside his nostril, but it didn’t last long. Pretty soon, we would hear him starting to breathe through his mouth, then he would begin to stir, then he would cry. It made for a lovely evening and morning.

It has also made me realize how debilitating it is to a household to have a sick child – at least for us newbies. Sickness equates to anarchy. We’ve lost the anchor and are currently adrift in a world that has clearly spun out of control. There is a fake knife next to a black crow puppet for goodness sake!


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Arrested Development

Lindsey and Gob doing their chicken impressions

Big Time

Anna made the Messenger-Inquirer, the local Owensboro paper!

I came home for lunch on Friday, and she warned me there might be something coming in the paper. She told me how on her morning run - during a light drizzle - a man proceeded to drive by Anna in a truck, then pulled over and got out with a camera. As Anna ran towards this unknown (and by this time seemingly psychotic) man, he began taking pictures. For some reason still ran towards him and not away from him. Eventually, he introduced himself as a journalist (so this is how Marshall must seem to some) in search of a good picture. He was kind enough to let Anna continue her run, although he did drive ahead of her and get a couple of more candid shots. Later on Friday, he called to get Anna and Wyatt's names.

That's how it all happened. And today we got a kind call from Jonathan that Anna was indeed in the paper. When we went to the grocery store a few more people recognized her. One of the butchers told Anna she was the second famous person he's met; the other was John Wayne. Anna and the Duke! This is fabulous. Tomorrow, Anna is sure to get a hero's welcome at church.

The only down part: Anna is quoted as saying, "My husband and I have thought about running a half marathon." Which, of course, binds me to this. This half marathon thing was suppose to be a personal matter between Anna and I; now it's public knowledge.

All else is well in O-town. It rained here again last night. I don't think our lawn has been dry since we moved in to this house. It's a permanent humidor, which must be why they always had such good fun growing tobacco here.



Thursday, October 19, 2006

What about the kitchen sink?

I can't sleep, so I was watching television. An ad just came on from a car dealership in Indiana. They offered an appealing deal for anyone who really is afraid they may not make it through a tough winter: buy any GM car or truck and receive 150 lbs. of beef from your favorite butcher. I wish I made this up, but I didn't. Isn't that amazing? There are far too many questions here that need to be answered, but my first question is, "what if my favorite butcher happens to be a Japanese Kobe beef specialist?"


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bears in Arkansas? No, Make That Kentucky!

Rumer has it, there is a wild, terrifying bear loose in Owensboro, KY. These photos were recently taken in that area:

Monday, October 16, 2006

Narrow Holes and Wide Gates

Juggling 101

I knew a guy out in Pasadena who could juggle while riding a unicycle! It was amazing. Shoot, I have always been intrigued and impressed by juggling. I suppose we all are. Juggling is good entertainment, whether it is a ten-year old girl picking up the trick or a master tossing chainsaws high in the air.

And being the reflective person I am – and because I can’t juggle – I got to thinking about how juggling works. This seemed safer than trying to juggle. I’ve decided there are three basic rules to juggling:

Rule #1: always be ready to receive anything
Rule #2: it’s okay to possess so long as you can release
Rule #3: you have to give something away to receive something else

That’s it. Three simple premises: receiving-possessing-giving, receiving-possessing-giving, receiving-possessing-giving. That’s juggling. Well, not really.

Juggling and the Human Person

Juggling represents a very basic fact about the human being, for we are jugglers. At first, we are born only capable of receiving. We come into this world naked and entirely dependent – seeking food and shelter and clothing. Eventually, though, as babies we begin to grasp cups, hold forks, and possess knowledge. We develop past merely receiving. And over time we also learn how to release and give possessions away. Consequently, adulthood can be characterized by the ability to be a “receiving-possessing-giving” person. To be truly human is to be capable of juggling possessions and knowledge – taking it in, giving it out.

This may explain why juggling is as old as our earliest understanding of the human person. The “juggler” has been around since hyroglyphics - playing out with skill and concentration what we all hope to master with our many demands – the ability to deftly and gracefully receive all that comes at us.

Sadly, though, many of us end up juggling life about as well as we juggle bean-bags. We can’t seem to quite keep things in order. Receiving-possessing-giving seems too unmanageable. It seems much easier to just focus on one thing.

The Rich Man: Focused on Possessing

In our Gospel lesson today, we see a perfect illustration of someone who has no idea how to juggle. So, he sticks to what he is good at: possessing.

By all worldly standards, he appears to be a well-developed and stable person. He appears sincere and eager, and he seems to be a prime candidate for earning God’s applause. He has kept God’s commandments since his youth. He has been faithful to the nth degree. He is doing wonderfully.

He comes to Jesus apparently willing to learn and receive, but the course of his conversation with Jesus proves otherwise. The rich man is hoping to gain – gain affirmation, greater knowledge, gain further means to possess God and God’s blessings. He is great at keeping; he is great at possessing. Our primary proof of this man’s ability to possess comes from a simple fact: he is wealthy.

Wealth is supremely about possessing. Ignoring luck and chance and inheritance, wealth is pretty easy to secure: keep more than you lose. This man is great at this. Unfortunately, though, this possession obsession is arresting the rich man’s development.

Possession Obsession: The most popular and destructive type of arrested development

It is never a good thing to become arrested in our development. It is not natural for us as human beings to simply receive and never give. It is tragic when children are unable to take responsibility for things given to them.

However, our modern culture does not worry too much about persons whose personalities become absorbed and fixated on possessing. We rarely consider a person to be arrested developmentally if all they can do is acquire and secure. We subconsciously and publicly envy those who possess nicer cars or bigger salaries or more friends. We even obsess about possessing more Christian faith than our neighbor.

Perhaps this is because we live in the age of the consumer. We track the health of our economy based on whether people are getting more stuff. We consistently praise or hold up possession obsession as a positive in our society. In reality, though, it is a type of arrested development. It keeps us from true maturity.

Possession obsession reminds me of old cartoons or comedians who find more and more dishes or pots or pans being thrown at them; they catch, store quickly, catch another article and stash it too. For a while, it seems quite impressive, but in the end it all comes crashing down upon them.

Jesus’ Unwillingness to be Possessed and His command to Receive

Back to the rich man and Jesus. In the rich man’s mind, life is full of potential gains that will help this man move onward and upward. Essentially, he is looking for a vehicle – a means – to get on his way.

No way. No way, Jesus says. Jesus is not going to be a stepping-stone. Neither is God’s Kingdom going to be a possession.

The Kingdom of God: Received as a Child, not Possessed as an Adult

The Kingdom of God must be received in faith, not possessed. This is impossibly hard for the rich man. It’s hard for us, especially the more we grow up and the more we see ourselves acquiring. Wealth binds itself to us; we bind ourselves to it and our possessions. But it is precisely because it is our natural tendency to settle into possessing Jesus challenges the rich man. Stop keeping. Stop gaining. Stop guarding. Start receiving.

Be willing to follow the rules of juggling:

#1: always be ready to receive anything
#2: it’s okay to possess so long as you can release
#3: you have to give something away to receive something else

A Closing Tale of Two Persons

As I contemplated the rich man and Jesus, I kept seeing two different scenes. In one scene, I see a young man who has heard great things about a glorious kingdom. His parents and friends, mentors and religious leaders assure him there is such a kingdom. Consequently, he is seeking to find this kingdom and secure entry.

Along the way, he begins accumulating gifts and possessions he assumes will make entrance into the kingdom easier. He buys books all about the kingdom in case there is a quiz. He picks up a plaque for all the good work he does to prove he will be a good addition to the kingdom. He acquires money in case there is a fee. He learns of the practices of the king and mimics those behaviors. He picks up any number of things – anything he assumes the king will enjoy or approve of: books, tapes, conferences, conversations, journals. You name it he’s got it. So, by the time he arrives at the kingdom, he has many sacks hanging over his shoulders and objects in his pockets. His head is full of knowledge. But, upon arriving, he is astounded. His many possessions, instead of helping him, are hindering him – the entrance is much too small, too narrow. In fact, you might say he looks like a camel about to walk through the eye of a needle. It’s never going to happen.

Conversely, in another scene, I see a young woman hoping to find a kingdom. Well, perhaps it is better to say she doesn’t really know what she is hoping to find. She is thankful for today. She is also seeking direction and wholeness and forgiveness. She doesn’t have much to offer, but she yearns for more. Come to think of it, she is seeking a new life, a chance to start over.

Her journeys take her all over. One day, though, she encounters a man who claims to be the son of a great king. She finds it hard to believe any son of a great king would be out roaming the countryside, but she also sees in the son a great deal of love and she also hears his words to be true. And when the son of the great king invites her to join him on his way home to the kingdom, she figures she’s got more to gain than to lose. So she sets out with the son of the king, and he assures her that the road before them will not always be easy or clear. But, he also assures her the gates will be open. He says he will make sure to open the gates. It is his mission.

So she travels with him from place to place – juggling life as it comes, receiving just enough to hold onto and giving away what is not needed. And then one day the son of the great king tells her to give it all away: they are at the gate of the kingdom. And sure enough she looks up only to see the son has held his promise. The gates are open. They have been open the whole time … maybe not wide enough to carry the whole world in with you, but wide enough to be received as you are.

Narrow Holes and Wide Gates

Narrow holes and wide gates. It all depends on how you approach the kingdom of heaven. For those who come seeking to possess and keep, the kingdom is impossibly hard to enter. For those who come willing to lose their life and receive a new life, the gate is already open; the Son already walks among us.

So what about you? Are you willing to follow the simple rules of juggling? #1: be willing to receive anything; #2 you can only possess if you’re willing to release; and #3 you have to give away to get more?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Food Fight

"The consumer eats worse, and the producer farms worse. And, in their estrangement, waste is institutionalized ... We are eating thoughtlessly, as no other entire society ever has been able to do. We are eating - drawing our lives out of our land - thoughtlessly. If we study carefully the implications of that, we will see that the agricultural crisis is not merely a matter of supply and demand to be remedied by some change of government policy or some technological 'breakthrough.' It is a crisis of culture." - Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

Today I was handed the single most alarming piece of paper I have ever received in my life. More shocking than the doomsday-prophesy trash some hyper-anxious Christians litter cars with. More shocking than my first college exam – of which I knew far too few answers. Shoot, it is more shocking than any exam I ever dreamt I received and didn’t know a single answer to.

Before you look at the sheet for yourself, let me tell you what it amounts to: organized gluttony, nutritional pornography, a buffet line encompassing four city blocks. Now, if you’ve still got the stomach, take a look:

You can also check it out on Wikipedia:

Allow me to explain the layout of the sheet. The top 1/3 provides a map of booths distributing food at the 85th Annual West Side Nut Club Fall Festival in Evansville, IN (about 30 minutes from Owensboro). The bottom 2/3 lists in scholarly detail all the foods available at these booths.

Why do I have this sheet? You guessed it. I’m going to the 85th Annual West Side Nut Club Fall Festival tomorrow; I’ve been told to bring my own plastic fork so I can enjoy all the different servings. I’ve also been told there were 70,000 people at this fall festival today.

To help take the stress out of the event (and to keep myself from wandering aimlessly down the promenade of plenty), I’ve grouped the food options into three different categories: the good, the bad (for you) and the ugly. Since the ugly will probably have the least argument surrounding them, I will start with them: beefy joes, bug juice, burgoo (used to be made with squirrel), brain sandwiches (yup, that’s real cow brain, folks), chocolate covered crickets, German golf balls (who knows?!), puppy chow, road kill chili (I bet health inspector’s dig this name), scorpion suckers, turtles on a stick, and walking tacos.

The bad (for you) are also seemingly easily to identify, although these are also the items which make the fall festival such so noteworthy and such a hit. Generally, the bad (for you) foods have adjectives to warn you of their potency: words such as BBQ, Cajun, deep-fried or simply fried. These foods also include the ridiculous, the overkills of American cuisine: deep-fried Twinkies, fried donuts, BBQ nachos (now that’s what I call Tex-Mex).

The good – at least what I am imagining to be good and therefore worth a few of my bucks – include: African peanut chicken, baklava, caramel apples with nuts, portabella mushroom fajita.

I have been joking and writing this in good fun. You sense that, I hope. But, I also attached Wendell Berry’s thought at the beginning of this article for a reason. In reality, I am also deeply troubled by what this fall festival represents. I am troubled that so much of our communal life in America has become detached from the natural produce of the land and has become affiliated with highly processed and obscenely altered food.

Fall festivals use to represent the deep gladness particular communities enjoyed and shared from receiving the fruits of their labors and fields. Natural joy came from natural food and natural surroundings. Yes, they were often celebrated and marked with excess, but the excess arose out of memories of difficult seasons both behind and before.

Today, the excess is much different. Excess is the occasion, the expectation and the norm. We have become so productive and so concerned with grand ventures, we cannot begin to fathom a season without excess. Fall festivals have become carnivals – being stripped of their communal feasting and reduced to individual booths and personal pizzas.

We are able to produce more food and more calories than we could ever care or dare to enjoy. Meanwhile, we are creating just as many gluts of waste as we are pleasure.

This really is horrifying to me. It is horrifying to realize how thoughtless and systemic the whole matter is. The same thing occurs at county and state fairs. It occurs at professional sporting events complete with concessions. It occurs in food chains. “It is a crisis of culture,” as Berry says. And, he is also right to admit that we fail to recognize our excessive eating habits as a crisis, believing instead that it is a matter easily cured through medication or dieting or some impersonal corporate body who will give us true food. We remain oblivious to the blatantly deceitful advertising schemes of big food producers. We trust that if it is edible, smells good and looks good in a picture, it will not do us much harm. It is food after all, not alcohol or tobacco. All the while, we continue to consume and consume.

So, tomorrow, I’m going to try to be a bit more conscious about what I eat. Check out my “good” list again. You’ll notice they consist of whole, natural foods … well, at least I assume so. I’ll let you know after I take my trip to the 85h Annual West Side Nut Club Fall Festival.

By the way, as I look over the food options, I’m left to wonder what happened to all the real nuts. Oh, wait, they disappeared long ago beneath layers of cinnamon glaze. They’re at booth #16 if you want them.


Night Vigil

Kentucky rains keep pouring down. We’re getting one good thunderstorm a week, and tomorrow promises to be another clashing of fronts over our lands.

I am vexed that fall has not arrived in more definite ways. Sure, there are plenty of concocted expressions of fall about: Halloween decorations are emerging from storage, football games are being played, pumpkins are being sold outside grocery store entrances. But, that’s about it really. Only the occasional crisp night has kept my spirits up and reminded me fall is surely to come.

The good news is that tomorrow is supposed to be the tipping point. Another front is to move in, and this – they say – will be the one that sends us into harvest moons and chilly nights. It would be wonderful if it does, for Thursday I am to travel to Evansville, IN for an afternoon at a fall festival. Eating caramel apples and drinking apple cider just won’t feel right if it’s still in the upper 80’s, which it has been the last few days.

I came to Kentucky for the fall after all. Well, not entirely, but that was certainly a key part of the decision: the gray, cloud-filled skies, the full moon shining behind a cloth of fog, the amber remains of corn fields harvested and dying, the lick of flames close to cold skin from a blazing bonfire, the feel of jeans and sweatshirts on a Saturday afternoon while raking leaves under crisp, crystal blue skies. Clearly being away from fall has left romantic visions.

I learned today that Jon Brennan lives in Owensboro. The name didn’t strike me at first as being anyone worth mentioning; perhaps it doesn’t you either? But upon further discussion, I was reminded Jon Brennan was the “cowboy” on the Real World 2: Los Angeles. That may ring the bell for you. But for those of you still clueless, I’ll fill in the rest of the picture.

Jon Brennan was one of the fortunate few to be selected as a member of the Real World – a show begun by MTV in the early 1990’s that brought a group of young adults together who were beginning to make life happen for them. The first year was a wild success – complete with aspiring singers, actors, dancers and Eric Nies. The second year, then, was much anticipated, and it was much more competitive for people to be selected. Jon Brennan just happened to be selected, for God only knows what reason.

He was a cowboy with a passion for family and Jesus. In fact, he might be considered the first token Christian to be placed in a reality TV show – someone destined to be ridiculed and destined to provide good drama. Both were true of Jon Brennan. I remember watching as a teenager the Real World 2, and recalling how absurd it was to cast a good ol’ boy from the country in a show grossly about hedonism and in a city of fast lanes and low morals.

My dismay over MTV’s decision has only been compounded and multiplied. Now that I have lived in Los Angeles, and now that I currently live in Owensboro, I can’t think of a more shocking and disjointed cultural trick than taking Jon Brennan out of Owensboro and dropping him in TV land.

But if Jon Brennan found the Real World to be too big of a pond for his small town values and dreams, it didn’t take him long to find a place more his size. He returned home. He returned to Owensboro, where he continues to live, and he lives here having earned a great deal of respect from this community (no doubt the result of being largely ridiculed by wider American culture). He sang here for the 4th of July, finding nothing but applause and wild enthusiasm for unashamed patriotism. He works as a music and youth director at one of the local churches, continuing to proclaim through his wardrobe and actions that “real men love Jesus.”

All the world is a stage, Shakespeare said. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say that the world is full of stages of varying exposures. There are cosmopolitan stages, national stages, regional stages … and then there are places like Owensboro.

That reminds me of a quote I heard recently, which has no connection to Jon Brennan or fall, but I enjoyed it:

“God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.” – Voltaire



Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Labors of Love, pt. 2

Some before and after pics for everyone.


Trash Day

Today is Wednesday ... early Wednesday right now. Wyatt has awaken before the dawn of day, but I am not all that troubled. I am taking this opportunity to enjoy the quiet of the world. I'm also taking the opportunity to enjoy our new house.

Over the last week, much work has been done around the house - including finishing hard wood floors in both the living and dining room. Finishing the floors in particular proved to be an adventurous task. It wasn't going to be much of a problem, but around the time we were putting the second coat of polyurethane on a severe thunderstorm rolled through Owensboro - dropping something like 6'' of rain in just a couple of hours. There were also threats of tornados, and a neighbor across the street lossed a significant limb of a large tree. We didn't lose any major tree limbs, but we did lose our electricity, which, as you can imagine, made putting polyurethane on much more difficult since it was 8 pm and completely dark outside. Still, it got done.

It's amazing how much satisfaction I'm deriving from being able to do these little labors. Like last night, when I arrived home from work and I realized the trash needed to be taken out since Wednesday is trash day. Strangely, I was somewhat pleased at the notion that I get to put out my trash ... and that my weeks would have a more domestic schedule to them. (I can hear my mother asking if this would still be her same son.) We even have a postal carrier who comes directly to our door everyday well before noon. Again, these simple domestic pecularities are strangely pleasing to me.

Of course, there are other things that aren't quite in order ... like the grass that is well over five inches in places because I'm still waiting for a lawn mower (and a lawn mowing company to come mow my yard in the meantime!). And then there's Lewis ... our neighbor across the street. Great guy and he certainly keeps his yard looking wonderful. But, he - being retired - also has a curious habit of sitting outside of his garage for 60% of the day - enjoying the day, watching cars roll by, probably looking with contempt and disbelief at our lawn. I think our family is going to provide good theatre for Lewis.

Wyatt is off to a hot start this morning. He has already emptied all the milk he just acquired into his diaper: serious unloading. He's now wide awake in his baby seat ... bouncing and laughing at me from time to time. But, praise be to God, he has been relatively orderly the last two days. He had been waking up routinely in the night - 2 to 3 times, but these past two nights he has slept for 8 hours consecutively.

Simple pleasures amount to a whole lot.


Friday, September 22, 2006


Every Friday, I strive to send out a devotional for our church. And, seeing how this one provides an anecdotal story from life, it seemed appropriate for the blog as well ... enjoy.

Our various texts for this week strike a similar chord in my thinking: proximity. Psalm 8 reminds us God has created us in close proximity to Himself. Meanwhile, the Gospel text of Mark soberly reminds us of our constant tendency to wrestle over the best seats and finest positions – to remain in proximity of popular people and places while neglecting James’ call to draw near to God or Jesus’ call to draw near to the least of the world. We – as human beings – have a great deal of insecurity about how special we are. We forget – as Psalm 8 tells us – that we are made just “a little lower than God” and God’s glory. And in forgetting we end up expending a great deal of energy trying to prove we are special or separate.

I just got back from a trip to Pasadena this week, which meant a few flights for me. Airplane travel is a textbook example of the “First & Last” principle and the value we place on proximity. People do just about anything to get into “first class” seating, but for those who cannot accrue the miles, they now have another option: exit row seats for $15.

I didn’t pay the $15 to sit in an exit row, but as I boarded the plane, I did notice that the exit seats were remaining empty. “The flight is underbooked,” I thought to myself. “Could it be my lucky day?” But before I could work up the courage to move out of my seat and into the exit row, another couple took my idea and moved passed me … right into the exit row.

Now, I need to tell you a little more. There was already a gentleman sitting in the exit row up against the window. His chair was directly in front of mine. So, I had a front row view for the drama that was about to play out.

Alright, so back to where I was: the couple moved past me to sit in the exit row. As soon as the couple sat down – complete with smiles – the gentleman who paid for the seat turned to the couple and coldly asked, “did you pay $15 to sit here?” You could cut the tension with a knife.

Now, of course, the couple did not pay $15, and they awkwardly tried to bull their way through this conversation with a completely irrelevant point, “we just couldn’t stand it back there; there was no leg room.” At which point the gentleman disgustedly turned his head to the window and did not say another word the rest of the flight.

I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Embarrassed that it has become so inconvenient to be around other people. Ashamed that I could have easily been the one to plop down in the exit row – taking the best seat remaining. I started to realize how frequently I try to get away from little children on planes.


If plane cabins were a practice test for carrying out Jesus’ commands of loving others and seeking to be first, many of us – including me – would flat out fail. How many of us are truly willing to give up the best seat on the plane in order to serve someone else? How many of us are willing to do likewise in our everyday life – at home, at work, on Frederica Street while driving?

God continues to encourage us with the reminder that we truly are special – made in God’s image (Psalm 8). And, God continues to challenge us to use our greatness not for ourselves but for the greatness of others. Such is the way of Christ (Mark 9:30-37).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Apple Rules

Why Apple Rules:

Reason #563 - Tonight I downloaded the Indianapolis Colts season onto iCal, so now I know exactly who and when the Colts play this entire season.


Monday, September 04, 2006


I made it. I'm ordained. Above is a picture of my first sermon. Wyatt didn't seem to get the finer points of my eschatology, but he sure loved my analogies.

Also, here is a brief piece I wrote following the ordination. It is intended for the congregation.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night – Psalm 92:1,2

Friends, it is good to give thanks to the Lord for all gifts, but it is particularly great to give thanks for the ordination and installation service this past Sunday. I certainly left the sanctuary with my heart in song – delighted by the rich community of friends and family, encouraged by the words from elders and pastors, nourished in prayer, inspired through song, surrounded by a chorus of brothers and sisters, and calmed by brilliant light cascading down into our lovely sanctuary, eager for fellowship and food. All this was great.

Occasionally, we have opportunity to create space so we can pause. An ordination and installation service is such a time, but there are others – including weekly worship on Sunday mornings. And anytime we pause to recognize God’s providential hand in our life, it is a sure guarantee thanks and song will rise to the surface. Pausing is an opportunity to reflect on how God has called you by name, prepared you, sent you and blessed you for God’s own glory. It is an opportunity to realize – as the Psalmist appropriately expresses – God often draws us near in the morning of our faith with lovingkindness. And when we arrive at the end of our journey in faith – at night – it is an opportunity to realize God’s faithfulness. We pause to give our life depth as well as to connect the fragments and seeming failures of our journey. We pause because life really can be a sacred venture if we are bold enough to stop and listen.

All this was true for me on Sunday evening, and I hope and trust that others benefited from this holy pause. Perhaps this pause allowed you to realize the Lord has called and equipped you for a special ministry. Perhaps you found Jonathan to be charging you as well as me. Although we are one body, there are many gifts.

Allow me one other thought from the ordination and installation service. In the weeks leading up to the service, I saw it as a conclusion, an end to a long journey physically, emotionally and spiritually. But upon entering the sanctuary, I could not escape this thought: life begins. Indeed! The richness of our time together is just beginning. And while the paths that led us together and the path that leads on into the future are not without their curves and bumps, it is wonderfully refreshing to have a launching pad of sorts.

Life begins. Thanks for pausing with me. I look forward to walking with you … and cutting the quick way to the Gospel for you.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Week to Remember

As far as big week's go, this week easily cracks the top 10 in my personal history. Heck, it may stand up for my whole life.

On Wednesday, we closed on the house, leaving us at the bottom rung of a rather intimidating financial ladder. There's nothing like signing the paper, which shows you exactly how much you will be paying the bank for the house over a thirty year period ... easily double the selling price of the house.

Tomorrow, I will be ordained as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament. It symbolizes a call, but it is also the result of at least four years of preparation, several examinations, three internships and a couple of sermons along the way. Many family members will be on hand, which will be a delight to me.

And, tonight, Notre Dame begins its football season. That is also huge. In fact, if Notre Dame and the Colts win championships this year, this may be the biggest year of my life. No pressure to Charlie Weis and Tony Dungy though.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Deep Breaths in a Hyper-Ventilating World

I believe there are always temptations to reduce our social consciousness both in its width of exploration and its depth of imagination. But I also think this might be a greater temptation for our larger world today. More and more, it seems our economic, political and social success is so largely dependent upon quarterly and weekly goals that any hope of being guided by life-long endeavors seems irrelevant. Consequently, the way we live and work is being radically reduced to current demands and opportunities. We are being dominated by the tyranny of the urgent.

A lot of this undoubtedly results from the rise of capitalism, which is dependent upon competition as a foundational piece for the global market. Competition forces manufacturers to beat one another to the consumer or beat one another in price. This is good for buyers … well, initially perhaps.

A great example of this trend, what I call “hyper-markets,” can be seen in one of America’s most controversial businesses: Wal-mart. Wal-mart is a direct descendant of “discount retail,” and while the Wal-mart website claims the foundational value or core idea that drives their business is customer service, I don’t think that’s what most people would say ( To most, Wal-mart is about the lowest price, and the vast majority of their advertisements make this their differentiator compared to other retail stores. Everybody knows what the bouncy happy face is all about.

In just over one month of being in Owensboro (which happens to have Kentucky’s largest Wal-mart store) I’ve had multiple conversations with people who shop at Wal-mart. And every single person has made it a point to mention Wal-mart’s prices as the reason they shop there. One person even quoted some supposed study, which found that the average shopper would save up to $17 or more a month if they were to shop at Wal-mart versus any other retail or grocery store. The point seems clear enough: you’ll save money today, so what harm can that do for the future?!

Well, clearly, low prices are not a bad thing. The crux of the debate comes back to this idea of competition. To be competitive, you have to be willing to change, to adapt – just ask Darwin. You have to decrease your long-term commitments and be in continual search of a more modern, efficient way to make a product for less. If you don’t, somebody else does, and your stores close down while other stocks rise.

This is where most critics of Wal-mart start in. Wal-mart seemingly has no long-term concern for manufacturers, sellers, buyers, retailers or breathing human beings. In short, they are bad neighbors who only come into town to monopolize retail or go over seas to manipulate manufacturing. They do business with you if you help them, but watch out if you don’t (or good luck getting a contract with them if you don’t meet their demands)! They are a commercial vacuum – sucking up local, less efficient retailers and distributors, engulfing quality jobs and ultimately procuring lots of revenue from people’s paychecks.

There is no doubt Wal-mart creates all sorts of activity wherever they go. People just aren’t so sure what kind of activity they produce. Either it’s healthy competition that will eventually lead to better business practices and a tighter world economy, or it’s degradation of commerce that will eventually strip the world market of dignity, local towns of quality goods and workers near and far of their own self-worth.

I tend to lean towards the later camp, but I also know it's way too simplistic to label Wal-mart the source and distributor of the world’s ills. Wal-mart is symbolic of the overall effects of capitalism.

Which leads us to another foundational piece of capitalism: competition is ultimately about companies making a profit. At the end of the day, profitability rules the roost, and a dollar earned yesterday means nothing compared to the ever-pressing demand of making a dollar tomorrow. Sure McDonald’s has sold billions of happy meals, but if they don’t find a way to compete and sell a million more this year, they are dead.

This too narrows corporate and communal attention. Every industry has been affected by these ideas. The entertainment industry tries to make movies it knows will cost relatively little while also getting a lot of people into the theatre … thus the rise in horror films of late. Other industries have different ideas of what profitability is, such as politics where profits might be another term in office or a majority in the house. But the evidence and effects of competition are the same: try to secure short-term success, always think in the now, don’t be afraid to change, evaluate yourself at least quarterly.

It is clear to see that time itself is being redefined by capitalism. It is becoming a commodity of great worth, so rather than people taking their time or celebrating time, our mentality is becoming chained to deadlines and time-tables. We become vexed in a no-man’s land: well aware of the value of time and desiring to maximize and expand our free time but also well aware of the scarcity of time and the need to make good on what little we are given.

Amidst this confusing world of material glut and scarcity of time, modern culture seems so much a proliferation of junk. Our landscape is populated more and more with evidence of easily made and easily discarded goods. And all of it is built upon the promise of securing immediate success or gratification. Never mind the landfills accumulating around and before us, or the mines of wisdom being discarded from our past!

I am reminded here of a small book I was reading today, which spoke of prayer as an act of breathing. We breathe in the good gifts of God, taking in blessings and the world’s treasures, and breathe out compassion and love and peace. Likewise, I would say a faithful life, a spiritual life, is a life of remembrance and deep gratitude. Living a faithful life requires deep breaths and healthy exhales; there needs to be room for our souls and hearts and minds to stretch out and play in the time and space God has given us, not in hurried, knee-jerk, hyper-active exercises of productivity. The Christian life needs to resist the temptations that competition dominates all of existence, resources and people are intended only for our profits (either monetary or otherwise), and time is a scarce commodity needing to be capitalized.

Thankfully, there are exceptions to this rule, and there are artists and robust souls throughout the world who are dedicated to thoughtful, relaxed ventures. But, more and more, artisans and true craftsman are becoming like the Desert Fathers of early Christianity: you can find them if you’re really looking, but it takes a great deal of commitment and searching. It also means leaving behind some of the more convenient, popular ways of the world.

I think we can also find alternative ways of living when we relax and try to take in Jesus’ life and ministry. It would do us well to take time and re-imagine Jesus walking with his disciples in Galilee – pointing to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field that have no need to worry about commercial endeavors such as buying clothes or building homes. “Take a deep breath; look around you; look in; look backward; look forward,” he might also say.

Jesus clearly modeled a richer, deeper and healthier paced life – everything with him had an increased sense of connectivity, history and depth; I like to believe with the Spirit’s (the Holy Breath’s!) help, such a life might still be possible for us today.

Breathe in. Breathe out. There’s more to life than low prices and quick fixes.