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!