Saturday, December 31, 2005

the weakest link

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. I’ve always loved Christmas—the lights, the furry hats, the Christmas cheer, the Christian music. I mean, what are the chances that you hear these words in Starbucks any other time of the year?

Hark, the herald angels sing,
“Glory!” to the newborn King.
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled.

Joyful all ye nations rise.
Join the triumph in the skies.
With angelic host proclaim,
Christ is born in Bethlehem.

Mild he laid His glory by
Born that men no more may die
Light and life to all He brings
Risen with healing in His wings

And if they do the instrumental version, I always chime in, and sometimes I can even get others to join. Fun. I particularly like that last stanza.

Contrary to what some Christians think and one pastor I heard venting, Merry Christmas isn’t a battle cry, but an announcement of peace and good will. The Crusades were not the glory days of Christianity, and the manger scene is not the new “In this sign conquer”. This one sermon has is that if someone greets you with “Happy holidays” that you “shouldn’t be belligerent or rude” but firmly and sweetly put forth that these are not happy holidays, but say “No, it’s Merry Christmas.” Huh? Do you really think that this person who has been on her feet for 8 hours in the busiest time of the year, ringing up gobs of junk for all the cut-throat shoppers is going to say, “Bad me. Bad me. I knew better. I’ll be good. Merry Christmas. I’m sorry.” I doubt it. And I’d bet the reason she said happy holidays was not so she could get a lecture, but so she could avoid one! How does she win? Maybe this might go better: She says, “Happy holidays”. You smile and say, “Merry Christmas. And keep the change.”

See, Christ’s advent was not an in-yer-face move. Not at all. He came silently, at night, as a fragile, little baby. “Holy infant so tender and mild” as one song has it. Amazing. And true. In fact, he snuck in. And once the kings of the world discovered the plot, they sought to have Him destroyed. So his parents did what? They ran and hid. In Egypt. And really, to marvel at the power of Christ is to marvel at restraint. God in the flesh dwelling with men? And men not frying? Amazing. Even at the pinnacle of his life, when He faced his accusers, he didn’t flex his spiritual muscle or assert his rights of Sonship. (Remember how He said he could’ve called 12 legions of angels? That’s about 80,000 angels. Whoa. Especially since 2 wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah, and 1 wiped out 70,000 people in Israel.) But He gave his fragile back to the flogging whips, his beard to those who plucked it out, and his body was crushed for you and me.

I offered my back to those who beat me,
My cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
From mocking and spitting.

Isaiah 50:6

Christ truly did not come into the world to grab up all the power. He came to give it away. And the church is at her best when she is giving power away, not grabbing it up.

I must admit that all this controversy wasn’t my Christmas experience at all. Here’s one example.

I was in line at the post office. It was a long line. I was mailing a Christmas letter to one of our soldiers in Iraq that my daughter has been corresponding with. It was a long line, but I didn’t mind. It was like I wanted to savor the moment of sending this letter off. I didn’t know if it would get to him in time or not, but I knew that whenever he got it, it would really lift his spirit. Those young men get really discouraged wondering if anyone remembers they’re there…that is if anyone remembers they’re there who isn’t yelling how their lives are being wasted over there.

So, I was waiting in this line at the post. Did I mention it was a long line? Lots of people had packages. I smiled. I thought about where those packages must be going—to loved ones that are unable to get together for the holidays for whatever reason. This one lady was having trouble. How can I describe her? She was trim, designer sweats, form-fitting shirt, perfect hair, complete with highlights. The image of together. Except she had five kids between the ages of 2 and about 9. Maybe they were all hers. I don’t know. What I do know is that she was extremely frustrated with them. The older ones were opening the doors for people coming in and out (keeping the doors open way too long). The youngest two were running around and playing. She kept telling the older ones to shut the doors. The youngest two she finally grabbed, drug, and trapped against the counter with her legs. They kept trying to wiggle out—at first they thought this was a game, but after being jerked back a few times, they figured out that—no—they really were in jail. Meanwhile, she’s doing business with the postal clerk, who was a good natured man, patiently weighing and shuffling and doing the things postal clerks do. The little ones cried. And the more they cried, the more the woman set her jaw. The person behind me in line said, “Bet you’re glad they’re not yours.” I just smiled, but I thought, No, actually I’d take them. They are adorable, and good natured. These kids all seemed to care for one another. Honestly, I felt sorry for the kids. They were just doing what kids do. And really, it had made the atmosphere more like a kindergarten than a post office, but honestly, who cares? It wasn’t like anyone was trying to solve a math problem. I felt sorry for the woman, too. I know exactly what it’s like to be stuck for whatever reason with five kids and have things to accomplish. Been there. But that’s not the reason I felt sorry for the woman. I felt sorry for her because she wasn’t enjoying her children.

So I’m sitting in the line at the post office getting kind of emotional. When I got to the front of the line, I looked down at the little girl with the sad face and runny eyes and nose in jail and smiled at her. Her eyes got real big, and she hid behind her mom’s leg. I moved to the right so I could see her and smiled at her again. She moved the other way to hide again. I moved the other way again. We played this game for a while. She wasn’t crying now. She had this look of, “Who is this strange man who keeps following me and smiling at me?” One of the older kids saw us and felt obliged to tell me what was happening. “She has to stay right there.” I smiled at him and nodded that I knew.


My turn. The clerk who helped me was black, attractive, could’ve been a young grandmother. I told her I had this letter that was addressed to one of the soldiers in Iraq. She typed in the ZIP code, and then told me it was 37 cents, and asked if I wanted to buy a book or if I just wanted her to mail it for me. Oh. I thought it had to have something special to go overseas. She told me that most of the stuff going to the military is just regular postage. It goes to a US zip code and then the Army takes it from there to wherever it really goes. I guess that makes sense—then they don’t even have to reveal where someone actually is. Secrets and all that. I told her I’d buy a whole book of stamps. She asked me if I wanted one of the holiday collections, or a regular book. Oh! Cool. I chose the ones with Saint Nick and paid for them. After she made my change, I told her, “Merry Christmas.” She glowed and said, “Thanks, I needed that.” As I was putting my receipt and my change in my bag, I sort of mumbled through the tears I was holding back, “Don’t we all?” As I started to walk away, she said sweetly, “Merry Christmas.” I walked back to the car with tears welling in my eyes.

Leaving, I wondered why I was so emotional? That this was the first Christmas without my mom? All of my loneliness and rejection this year coming to a head? The thought of the soldiers trading Christmas with their families for a tour through the dust bowl in Iraq? All those packages going to all those separated family members by all those people in line? The lost joy of the children shuffled in with the hectic holiday rush? I never figured it out. I just knew that it was an odd mix of tears of joy and tears of sadness. Only yesterday did I realize what I had felt. I felt like I was an early Christian who had just drawn half the fish in the sand, and this woman, whom I had never met, drew the other half. Somehow in all this crazy, loud world we live in, all in a hurry to go nowhere, to do and get more of everything which comes to nothing, all this competition and selfish ambition that divides everyone, Christ showed up and sort of quietly winked at one white man and one black woman in a post office. In the middle of all this junk that hasn’t gone the way it was supposed to, Christ has a way of putting us back together, doesn’t He?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christmas family time

Apparently there was a lot of debate this year on whether to go to church on Christmas or not, being that Christmas had the gall to fall on Sunday. I was listening over some friends talk about it and was curious when the last time we had this crisis. I checked. It was 1994. From what I could tell, not being a news watcher, the argument against keeping church was "Christmas is a time for family" while the other side said "No, Christmas is a religious holiday".

I have at least one insight to offer that maybe has escaped notice. The other half of "Christmas is a time for family" is "Christmas is a time for family, not institution" or "Christmas is a time for the warmth and tradition of family, not the frigidity and mechanics of institution." I would say that every day is a time for the warmth and tradition of family, not the frigidity and mechanics of institution. I wish people would have the same concern for warm, nurturing relationships, turning the hearts of the fathers towards the children and the hearts of the children towards the fathers all through the year. Why do we have to wait for Christmas to have this debate?

But I have to put into context what I mean when I say "family". We have largely lost the concept of the "family of God" that Peter and Paul and others wrote about, and that all of the early church seemed to accept as reality. [1] I really appreciate what the preacher at my old church is reported to have said during his Christmas sermon—that Christmas was a time for family, and church is the only family a lot of people have. And that's why they chose to get together on Sunday, December 25, 2005. Where is the family of God? Have you seen it? When you look at Christians, do you see a striking resemblance to the heavenly Father or to the firstborn and full-grown son, Jesus? Do you see people that are as concerned about their brothers and sisters in Christ as their own husband, wife, or children? Or is it “My family is first, God’s family is second.”? Is the family name I got at my first birth or my second birth[2] more significant? more real? more important to me? Just a thought.

On this one, I feel a little like Admiral Kirk in one of the Star Trek movies, the one where the cadets had to face this theoretically unsolvable simulation. Legend had it that Kirk was the only one who ever beat it. But the truth was that he reprogrammed the simulator. I opted out of this debate. We didn’t “go” to church, but then church meets in our home, so we never “go”. But at the same time I admit that our church gathering on Christmas was only biological family—me, my grandmom, dad, sister, wife, and kids. Actually it wouldn’t be right to call it a biological family—both my sister and I were adopted as babies. And maybe that’s part of why it’s easier for me to identify with the family of God than some. Maybe that makes it easier for me to accept the “Spirit of adoption”[3] than some. Maybe.

Anyway, it was just us on Christmas, and it felt like it was going to be really down with Mom gone. Everyone says that the first everything after a loved one dies is especially hard—first Christmas, first anniversary, first birthday, and so on. We really were all kind of sad, and I don’t feel wrong about that at all. But something amazing seemed to happen to us. We shared communion and we read together the awesome story of the Incarnation from Luke 2. I listed the characters in the story—Julius Caesar, Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the Angel of the Lord, the heavenly host, the Baby, Anna, and Simeon—and asked each one to choose one of the characters and tell us what they must have been thinking, how they felt about what was happening. Dad went first, being Julius Caesar, saying something like, “I’m Julius Caesar, the king of the world, and I have a security problem with all these people that I have conquered…so I have issued a decree that a census be taken…and plus once I count the people it makes them easier to tax into submission.” It was fun to enter into the world he set us in, and we talked about the census and taxes and also about the unlikeliness of Jesus being born in Bethlehem, a city he wouldn’t have been born in without Julius Caesar and his census, a city the Christ must have been born in for the prophecy to come to pass.[4] Grace was Mary, Benjamin was Joseph, Jill was the angel, and I was the stars. Grandmom was Anna the old prophetess in the temple, and that was fun to talk about, too. Dad, the lawyer, said that in law you want to establish credibility of your witnesses, and this account does just that with these two very respectable, known people witnessing the birth and naming of Jesus, and bringing testimony that He was the Promised One. It was great conversation, but more amazing to me was that we really seemed to enter the story. It was like the way the story was written was an invitation for us to jump in, see ourselves there, make it our own story, to be part of the family of God.

I’ve just been thinking: Isn’t it great that God rules us with a story, instead of with laws and endless debates? Isn’t it great that the Bible was written as a collection of stories rather than a collection of statutes? Isn’t it great that God’s greatest revelation of Himself is not as our judge or our prophet or our policeman or our genie or our boss, but our father?

Like I said in a previous post, “spending time with family” didn’t save our Christmas. But our Christmas was saved. It somehow felt like our family was swallowed up in the family of God, and maybe we remembered for a moment that death was even swallowed up in victory, because the family of God even reaches beyond the grave. God decided to raise a family. And not only will he raise my mom, but he will raise all of us to be just like Himself, to be worthy of the Family Name we bear. It’s a good name. It’s a good family.

I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”[5]

[1] For example, see 1 Peter 4:17, Galatians 6:10, Ephesians 3:15, Hebrews 2:11, Acts 2:44
[2] John 3:7, Ephesians 3:15, Matthew 28:19, Acts 2:38, Acts 8:15-17
[3] Romans 8:15
[4] Micah 5:2
[5] 1 Corinthians 15:50-55

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

the best Christmas

I just read the best Christmas advice ever. Yesterday. Too late. Thanks. Oh well, it was still good advice, and helped make sense of my own Christmas experience and that of some of my friends. So here it is in brief. The full letter is on line here.

How to not only survive but actually enjoy the holiday season:

1. Resist it. That is, the madness of it. The rush to fit it all in. As C.S. Lewis said, "It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try and 'keep it' (in its commercial aspect) to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before Dec 25th everyone is worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and the think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no shape for merry-making; much less to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house."

2. You can't possibly please family. Not all of them. Jesus knew that. Jesus came from one of the most family-centric cultures in the world, those family systems where it is simply assumed you will drop what you're doing and go to them. Not Jesus. When his mother and brothers show up and want to speak with him He responds, "'Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?' Pointing to his disciples he said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers.'" Oh my. This isn't what any of us expected. He taught us that his true family are those who are in the family of God, that there are two realities we live in, and one is truer than the other. (And isn't that the story of Christmas???)

3. Let the longing bring you to God. Isn't there this internal conflict of emotions associated with Christmas? Doesn't it awake longings that you both love and hate? Aren't there moments, especially at night, when everything seems so beautiful? especially Christmas eve? Aren't there moments when relationships do seem to reach beyond the barrier, and connection is so good? There is time off to enjoy it all. Life seems about to come together the way we always wanted it to. But it never does. You can hate that, or you can let that desire take you deeper into God. You can bring this part of your heart to Jesus.

4. Lavish on someone. Some one. Not every one. This is one of the funnest parts of Christmas--to go over the top for someone you love, put something under the tree that just blows them away. Don't you love it when someone does this for you? Now, it's not doing it for everyone or you're back in the madness again. But some one. "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

Again, the whole letter from John Eldredge on the ransomed heart website under community/newsletters.

I still have more thoughts about Christmas being "a time to spend with family" which was so widely trumpeted this year with Christmas falling on Sunday. I don't know who decided it was "a time to spend with family" and I rather think that does more harm than good, contributes to the depression and anxiety of the season, and shifts the focus away from what Christmas is all about (as Charlie Brown and I found out). I will post on that later, but for now I would say that this year was a very hard year for me and my family with my mom passing away in July. It was our first Christmas without her, and very difficult. I wrote my dad that I felt like an amputee, only it's not just an arm or a leg missing, it’s like a little piece of everything is missing. And Christmas morning had all the signs of being a real kick in the pants until Jesus showed up and brought new life to this family--not because we "spent time with family" but because our family was spending time with Jesus. And really, it's not because we included the story of Jesus in our family time, but because Jesus included our family in His story.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

free or busy?

Busy. Look at your calendar. You're either free or you're busy. The opposite of busy is free. Jesus Christ came to set you free, not to set you busy. If you're busy, you're not free. You're in bondage. Maybe you don't even realize it.

I'm sorry.

I really am.

Mostly because you're in bondage to a lie anyway. Being busy means all your time is used up by something. But all of everybody's time is used up by something. The truth is you always make time for the people and things you want to and are not afraid of. Everything else is just BS.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

the perfect person

by BarlowGirl

You're the coolest person
That I have ever seen
So perfect with your pretty face
On the TV screen

You're a god I know it
How you stand above them all
You are my perfect person
Man I'd hate to see you fall

I want someone to believe in
Yeah well don't we all
In this life of imperfection
I need someone who won't fall

Got a magazine today
That was full of you
Shocked to read the words they said
Tell me they're not true

Add you to my fallen list
One more has hit the ground
The fault was mine
I held you too high
Your only way was down

I always thought this song was about someone else, some idol. I was right. It was about me. Super-me. And super-me has to die before the real me can live.

Here's the rest of the song.

I can't deny this need inside
I have to find the perfect one
But I wonder if behind my need
There might just be a reason

Is my life just one big searching
For the one I can adore?
It never works
And I'm just left here wanting more

Could it be this hunger's there
To drive me to the one
Who's worthy of all worship?
Would my searching then be done?

The death of super-me is more than just "I'm ok, you're ok." It's more than just "All I can be is all I can be, but I you can be is good enough." I have a deep abiding sense that there should be this perfect person, that if this perfect person exists then somehow everything is right. And it seems like this perfect person should somehow, some way be me. This perfect person should live in my skin. But somehow, super-me is fighting the real perfect person for preeminence. Super-me has to die. Will the real Perfect Person please take the throne?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

rabbit's map

I thought I would post a conversation I had with a friend a few months ago. It's pretty self-explanatory.

friend: I think Rabbit in Pooh Bear reminds me of the "church"
me: yeah?
friend: yeah
me: splain
friend: nobody likes him-oops! LOL! ok one sec
friend: well..he's all about business, HARVEST TIME, the map (in the Winnie the Pooh vid) and...never about a feast or fellowship
me: yeah, and always wanting to tell everybody else what to do
me: concerned about the "RIGHT" way
friend: yup
me: and always seems constipated
A map is not a guess
An estimation or a hunch
A feeling or a foolish intuition

A map is a dependable
Unwavering, inarguably accurate
Portrayer, of your position

Never trust your ears
Your nose, your eyes
Putting faith in them
Is most unwise
Here's a phrase you all
Must memorise
In the printed word
Is where truth lies

Never trust your tummies
Tails, or toes
You can't learn a thing
From any of those
Here's another fact
I must disclose
From the mighty pen
True wisdom flows

If it says so
Then it is so
If it is so
Well so it is
A thought's not fit to think
'Til it's printed in ink
Then it says so
So it is

Never trust that thing
Between your ears
Brains will get you nowhere fast
My dears
Haven't had a need
For mine in years
On the page is where
The truth appears

If it says so
Then it is so
If it is so
So it is
A thought's not fit to think
'Til it's printed in ink
Never differ from or doubt it
Or go anywhere without it

Thank goodness we've got this

So we don't need to fret about it
If it says so
So it is

friend: ROFL!
friend: ^ Rabbit sings that in the video - it's on right now
me: OH MY GOSH!!!!!
friend: LOL
friend: I know
friend: hehehe
friend: :-)
friend: I might FWD to everyone
me: please do!
friend: ok
me: see what he's saying?
me: there's no place for feeling
me: no place for the senses
me: no place for the body
friend: yup
me: i can't tell you how much I disagree with that
friend: HA!
me: well, maybe i can
friend: um
friend: no need
friend: we all know
friend: :-D

Friday, November 11, 2005

something worth saying about shame

If you ever attempt to make anyone who believes in Jesus feel ashamed you are resisting God and working for the devil. Shame has no part in a believer’s life. The Bible refers to the “old man” and the “new man”. Shame is all associated with the old man, who is dead, and has no power in or over a son of God. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. None. Who is he that condemns? Any list or accusation against a believer is futile. It won’t stick. God asserts that each of us who believes in Jesus Christ is holy. Anyone who says otherwise disagrees with God. Anyone who uses shame against one of God’s sons or daughters is resisting God.

Any believer who lives by shame is resisting God and working for the devil. Shame is not to be compensated. Doing things in an effort to earn back favor with God or a spouse or a child or a friend or a group of people is compensating shame. Compensating shame says that Jesus wasn’t good enough in a particular case. Doing this says that there is condemnation for someone who is in Jesus Christ. God says that there are no consequences for a believer even if someone else says otherwise. There are consequences for the “old man” but the old man doesn’t matter to a son of God anyway—the old man is dead, and anything that is precious to him is worthless anyway. Anything the old man creates, clings to, or has valid claim to isn’t a part of the new man. It’s easy to throw that away, because it isn’t owned anyway. God says that there is only one true way to live, and that is Jesus Christ, who is alive. All sins are part of the old man. The new man never sins. The new man is hidden in Christ. The old man is dead no matter how many times he rears his ugly head and asserts he still has power. Compensating shame is living by shame. Living by shame is reforging a connection between the “old man” and the “new man”. The old man now dead would like nothing more than to mooch off of the new man’s life, but the old man has no right to it. Agreeing with the old man is attempting to reconnect death and life. Agreeing with the old man is disagreeing with God. Living like it is resisting God.

Here’s one way it happens. Someone makes an accusation against a believer: “you are not a student of the Bible” or “you are not a true follower of the Bible” or “you are not the spiritual leader of your family” or “you are a rebel against the authorities God has instituted in your life”. So the believer thinks in his heart, “That’s not true! (Is it?)” The reason the believer questions himself is because there is actually something that has happened. And then an interpretation of what happened is suggested that strikes at the identity of the believer. Notice the way all the messages start: “You are…” There are a lot of things God says about his sons and daughters that start with “You are…” but none of them are shameful like these accusations. Nevertheless, sometimes a believer will agree with the accusation and set out to prove it wrong. And by doing so, she pays respects to the shame. She compensates the shame. She disagrees with God. She resists Him.

Or someone has an affair (or should I say moral failure) or blows it with a friend. So an appropriate recompense plan is crafted either by the believer or the spouse or the friend. The plan is worked to regain sufficient favor to be reinstated with status and rights. Anyone who is involved in crafting or working this plan is resisting God and working for the devil. The only way out is to call it what it is, the old man, and let it die. Any attempt to repay, cover, or compensate is disagreeing with God. It’s resisting God.

God says that if you’re in Christ you’re a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come, and you’re truly alive and on the Way.

If the person who committed the offense is not a believer, then it’s the same story line. There is surely shame, and there is one way to remove it. Jesus Christ died to take all the shame away for anyone who trusts Him. And then there is no more shame and therefore no condemnation. Unashamed. What a life.

No matter what else there is in being a believer, there is not shame.

See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall,
and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.

Romans 9:33

Oh, and about the "you are..." accusations I gave for examples above. Maybe a great response would be: Who cares? That’s not what it means to be a Christian anyway.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

more than words

Saying I love you
Is not the words I want to hear from you
It's not that I want you
Not to say, but if you only knew
How easy it would be to show me how you feel
More than words is all you have to do to make it real
Then you wouldn't have to say that you love me
’Cause I'd already know
What would you do if my heart was torn in two?
More than words to show you feel
That your love for me is real
What would you say if I took those words away?
Then you couldn't make things new
Just by saying I love you
More than words
Now I've tried to talk to you and make you understand
All you have to do is close your eyes
And just reach out your hands and touch me
Hold me close don't ever let me go
More than words is all I ever needed you to show
Then you wouldn't have to say that you love me
’Cause I'd already know
What would you do if my heart was torn in two?
More than words to show you feel
That your love for me is real
What would you say if I took those words away?
Then you couldn't make things new
Just by saying I love you
More than words

More than Words
by Extreme, 1990

It goes like this:

Long ago in many ways and at many times God's prophets spoke his message to our ancestors. But now at last, God sent his Son to bring his message to us. God created the universe by his Son, and everything will someday belong to the Son.

Hebrews 1:1-2, Contemporary English Version

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17, New International Version

Monday, October 24, 2005


The one use of the Bible is to make us look at Jesus, that through Him we might know His Father and our Father, His God and our God. Till we thus know Him, let us hold the Bible dear as the moon of our darkness, by which we travel towards the east; not dear as the sun whence her light cometh, and towards which we haste, that, walking in the sun Himself, we may no more need the mirror that reflects His absent brightness.

- George MacDonald,
Unspoken Sermons Series One, The Higher Faith,
London: Alexander Strahan, 1867

Sunday, October 23, 2005

no tears in heaven

I have trouble imagining heaven, for I have trouble imagining a place with no tears and no sadness. What's more I don't want to imagine a heaven with no tears, for it is by the tears and the sadness that I have come to truly know Jesus. Even the melancholy melodies I believe to be the very echoes of the heavenly chorus beckon to me of a place of passion, a place where I can still be moved. And still cry.

Friday, October 14, 2005

the ass and his shadow

A TRAVELER hired an Ass to convey him to a distant place. The day being intensely hot, and the sun shining in its strength, the Traveler stopped to rest, and sought shelter from the heat under the Shadow of the Ass. As this afforded only protection for one, and as the Traveler and the Owner of the Ass both claimed it, a violent dispute arose between them as to which of them had the right to the Shadow. The Owner maintained that he had let the Ass only, and not his Shadow. The Traveler asserted that he had, with the hire of the Ass, hired his Shadow also. The quarrel proceeded from words to blows, and while the men fought, the Ass galloped off.

And the moral to the story is: In quarreling about the shadow we often lose the substance.

So says ÆSOP. But I could come up with a completely different moral: Contracts should be well defined, even written, to avoid disputes arising from ambiguity. Or again: Don't travel on a hot day unless you have a particularly large Ass. Or again: Never count on your Ass to provide you with shade. Or again: Never rent, always own.

And which is right? Which is the meaning? We could take up sides and argue over the absolute meaning or even the shades of it. But, ironically, we will have lost the substance (that is, if there ever was a substance), for this is the trouble with extracting a point or a moral from a story: we bring a bias to a story if we think that there is a point to it. Our bias is our proviso that the author writes the story to make a point.

But modern men love ÆSOP because he tells you the point right there at the end of the story. And ultimately, isn't that the right answer? My points are nice, but wrong. The author is right because the author is the authority. We like that. But this betrays something about us. We think that story exists to make point, that morality is the father of episode. Surely ÆSOP saw it that way. We think that the way everything should work is this: Author has point to make. Needs way to make it. Tells story. If good author, tells point in end to avoid quarrels and wars among hearers.

And that's what we don't like about God. He is the Author. He had a point to make. He needed a way to make it. He told this Story that is recorded in the Bible. But he's not a very good author by our definition, because he didn't tell us the point at the end. Consequently we war and quarrel and probably miss the substance for the shadow. Just look at all the interpretations and divisions. In fact by this definition, God is beyond being a lousy author—he is an evil author, for

He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts,
So they can neither see with their eyes,
Nor understand with their hearts,
Nor turn—and I would heal them.

John 12:40

He even obscured the point by speaking in parables so that some would not understand, and would be afflicted in sickness and confusion. But we are betrayed, not by God, but by the poison apple we have swallowed: God as the Great Pointer.

I think we've feasted on a philosophy for who knows how long that led us to believe that the purpose of our existence is to implement enough of God's points to make Him happy. Or another variation: that because God loves us he has pointed out for us the things that will make us happy. And if we don't get the point, we're not trying hard enough, or we're sinful or something. There are other variations, too, but you get the point: God intends something for us, so He told us a story or a series of stories in order that we would get the point. So we argue over what is the point of the Story. Is it obedience? Discipline? Authority? Forgiveness? Righteousness? Justice? Mercy? Redemption? Restoration? Love? Or are those all valid points? No matter what our final destination is, we are still traveling over trails through the kingdom of the Great Pointer.

My children and I wanted to show how much we loved a certain person, for who she is and for the good she does. So for the formal launch of her ministry we put on a play. I wrote the script. Each child had a part. I recorded it as they acted it out. Everyone inside and outside the play thoroughly enjoyed it. There were some stellar performances and some goof ups. There was no moral to the story. The story was not the shadow but the substance. The story itself conveyed our love and respect for one person, allowed us to enjoy doing something together, and pulled in the others who were witnessing it, so they too could share in the joy.

To me this is more like God. The Father wants to tell a story, so he recruits kids to play different roles. Some are heroes, some are villains. Some walk in the light, some are confused. Some are not who they seem, as the story reveals in its unfolding. His Story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Some parts make you laugh, some make you cry. Some parts are encouraging, others disappointing. Some things seem to have gone rather badly, but end in glory and beauty. Some things seem glorious and grand all along but end suddenly and bitterly. And each part of the story will be as rich with meaning as the Writer, and will affect each person observing it or living it in some unique way.

In my case I took into account the players before I wrote the script, but I don't know if God does that or not. Maybe He thinks of the roles first and then auditions players for the parts, or maybe He thinks of the characters first and then thinks of how the story should flow. Maybe it's a mixture. Or maybe He's just so smart that it doesn't matter which way He does it, and it will work out to please Him in the end. I'll leave that to paid professionals. I resolve not to know the answer to that, but I resolve to know beyond the shadow of an Ass that the story is the point. When all is said and done, we will all have to give an account for how we played our role, not how we understood the story. We are travelers, not arguers.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

if God had a diary, how would it read?

If God had a diary, how would it read? What would he record? Where would he keep it so it wouldn’t get lost? Who would he trust with its secrets?

Part of the trouble with the Bible is that we try to make it something it's not. The bible doesn't read like a theology textbook or a handbook on church government. It's not presented that way. No, if you want to use it like that, you have to add an index. There's a book called Nave's Topical Bible, that organizes the Bible by topic so that you can look up love or forgiveness or mercy or anger or leadership, for example, and then you thumb through the entire Bible picking up bits and pieces. Nothing against Nave's, but it shows how different the bible is from a topical handbook.

Whether God ever intended us to pull out propositional truth from the bible or not, to find out "What the Bible says about..." must be gleaned. And that can be a lot of work. That keeps ordained ministers, priests, apologists, preachers, and professors busy, although with computers and a little creativity many tools have been developed today that make that a much more efficient pursuit. Nothing against preachers and other workers who will spend their lives diving for hidden treasures and sharing them with us, but it again shows how different the bible is from an encyclopedia.

This is not to say that the bible doesn't record specific and clear commands from God or that it has no authority. It does. But the Bible reads less like an owner's manual, text book, encyclopedia, rule book, or even a letter than it does a journal. There are letters in there. And there are instructions like you would find in a Final Will and Testament. And occasionally there are discussions of topics like you would find in a textbook. But as a whole, the bible is way too patchy to be called any of these things.

The Lord said to Abraham, 'Leave your country...'

After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, 'Send me back to my own homeland...'

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.

Moses answered, 'What if they do not believe me?'...Then the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?"

These were the sons of Jacob, who were born to him in Paddan Aram...

Then the LORD said to Cain, 'Where is your brother Abel?'
'I don’t know,' he replied. 'Am I my brother’s keeper?'
The LORD said, 'What have you done?...'

The person to be cleansed must wash his clothes, shave off all his hair and bathe with water; then he will be ceremonially clean...On the seventh day he must shave off all his hair; he must shave his head, his beard, his eyebrows and the rest of his hair.

Do not steal.
Do not lie.
Do not deceive one another.
Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God.
I am the LORD.
Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him.
Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.
Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God.
I am the LORD.
Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life.
I am the LORD.
Do not hate your brother in your heart.
Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.
Keep my decrees.
Do not mate different kinds of animals.
Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.

Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

A farmer went out to sow his seed...

Jesus said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil.
Cling to what is good.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
Honor one another above yourselves.

I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that.

I got a book for my birthday by Howard Garrett about Texas Trees. It's beautifully illustrated and organized like I would expect to find a book with ready information for nurturing and growing trees in Texas. Well, then. If the Bible is a reference book loaded with tips and quotes and formulas for nurturing and growing successful Christians, why isn't it organized anything like that at all?! It's a real patchwork collection a journal...a diary. To me, this doesn't diminish it at all! To me this just reinforces what Jesus told me: God is a person who wants to know and be known by me. He's not the Great Prime Mover or The Ultimate Cause. And that's why he gave me a journal, not a policy manual.

The Bible records for us things that happen as men and women walk with God. Some things they say and do and think are added to the journal. Some things God says and does and thinks are added to the journal. Some things are profound and jump off the page, causing a riot in the heart - "Let My people go!" - but some things seem trivial and superfluous, "...from Ephraim, Elishama son of Ammihud; from Manasseh, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur; from Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni; from Dan, Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai; from Asher, Pagiel son of Ocran; from Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel; from Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan..." Surely everything David or Abraham did is not in the bible. Surely everything God thought is not in the bible. How could they be? What is in there is what God thought would be good to add to His journal, just like what is in my journal is what I thought would be good to add to it.

So where would God keep his journal so it wouldn't get lost? I was amazed with the durability of the bible through the ages when I read Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Veredict. Of course I didn't think that proved the bible was right just because it outlasted conquerors, kings, generations, revolutions, fires, floods, famines, and even the dark ages (and it certainly didn't make me want to worship it). But the fact that it is the most reliable of any ancient text by any modern standard does send a chill up my spine and make me think maybe God chose a safe spot to keep His own journal so that it could finish serving its purposes. (And I admit that I didn't read much more of Josh's book after the part about the bible being durable--that was back when he was too long winded, and he put me to sleep).

Finally, who would God trust with his secrets? Somewhere in God's journal he says that he won't do anything without revealing it to his prophets. You only share your journal with your most intimate friends. I mean, an enemy may discover it, and may even figure out how to use your own journal against you, but there are just some mysterious things in there that only a friend would understand, and maybe some things that even a friend wouldn't understand at first, but would after going through some stuff together. "Abraham trusted God...and he was called God's friend." When it comes right down to it, only the person who believes you, who believes in you, who trusts you gets to be your friend and share the secrets of your journal.

The more I think about it the more I'm convinced that the bible is God's very own journal, at least it's the one he shares with the inhabitants of the earth. Whether He has another one or not I don't know. Maybe somewhere up above He's keeping one and adding new entries right now. I have heard of people in the past and even the present who He whispers things to, and reveals even more of His thoughts, and I am interested to know if He ever intends to write those down as well.

Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!
I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!


Job hoped that God would journal the words of his life, and it worked out for him. Maybe it will work out for me, too. For now, I love the thought that God trusted me to read his journal, and I even understand some of it. I hope it becomes even more precious to me as we go through more stuff together. From what I've seen so far, I think it will.

Friday, September 30, 2005

guys just don't have good taste in women

I posted a picture of my wife's face on-line, holding our new baby, and she said "YOU DIDN'T GET MY PERMISSION TO POST A PICTURE OF ME WITH THREE HOURS SLEEP." I didn't know what she was talking about at first, but then I found the picture. She looked beautiful. That's the reason I posted the picture in the first place. She said she looked like a smurf. Unbelievable. I said, "You know, all women are that way. If a good looking guy tells them they are beautiful or they have a pretty face or great legs or something, they say, 'Whatever.' But if their girlfriend says, 'Look at you, girl, you're lookin good!' then they wear that outfit again and again and they go shopping to find 6 more just like it." That has got to be the biggest joke in the universe. She laughed when I told her that, and then she said, "Yeah, guys just don't have good taste in women."

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

the more i know

the more i know the more i love. i guess that makes me an anticynic or something. or maybe a christian.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

from above

Burlap. The stuff you make a rough tent with. Burlap goes well with mud and returns to dust if you beat it enough. And it's leaky. Cashmere. The stuff you clothe the finest sheep with. I love the name of this band: burlap to cashmere. That's pretty much me, before and after Jesus rescued me. But that doesn't really have anything to do with this post. Except for that's the band that wrote my song. My song today.

From Above
by Burlap to Cashmere

This tent not mine
My hands are on
If I had no feet to run
It would be a blessing
It would be a blessing from above

And if the trees were never planted
And the mountains not slanted
And there was no more water to part
It would still be a work of art

And in my darkest rooms I push and shove away
But in my fall He has stayed

To the sea I will love
Higher mountains I will discover
From above
From above
From above I will heal

And I am just a prisoner here
A breath away from another fear
Seasons one day’ll shed my soul
This tent not mine here in control

My emotions sometimes controls me
My pride can tow me
But as I was sent to you, I have loved
In the realms of heaven up above

And in my darkest rooms I push and shove away
But in my fall He has stayed

To the sea I will love
Higher mountains I will discover
From above
From above
From above I will heal

From above
From above
From above I will heal

Saturday, September 17, 2005

It's a boy!!!

Woohoo! I've been so busy taking pictures of our new baby that I haven't written anything. He's a miracle. He's beautiful. Caleb Garrison Coan is his name.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

complexity and simplicity

I'm thinking about the paradox of nature’s being complexity and simplicity at once. My wife will deliver a new baby in a matter of hours not days. On the one hand a baby growing inside his/her mommy is very simple. It just happens. On the other hand, how vastly complex. We have a cool baby book that tells us day by day what organs and systems have developed, what maturation has occurred, what to expect, etc. It's absolutely incredible the intelligent design of growth—not just of a human but of any animal or plant for that matter. On the other hand, things work the way they work because they should work they way they work—fingernails, hair, etc.—no one plans it out, it just simply follows the path of least resistance. Maybe that's why some people have determined that it's all about adaptation and evolution, that over time every type of creature is transformed into something most suitable for its environment.

If I take animals out of the equation and just consider the plants, it seems much simpler. They grow toward the sunlight, they perk up when they are watered, they wither in the heat. They grow around whatever is in their way. But look at babies. They turn to their mother's voice, they perk up when they are fed, they wither if they are not held enough. They just want what they want, with no real concern for what they should want or ought to do.

Somehow I think the life of a child is better, that simple is better. Jesus said I have to become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven.[1] He also said that if my eye, which is the lamp of my body, is simple then my whole body will be full of light.[2] I was also told that simplicity is the best way to give gifts.[3] And I have been warned not to be conned out of the simplicity of Christ.[4] Most of all, the offer of Christ is a simple heart, one not divided or broken, a heart free of confusion and anxiety.[5] I heard one time that genius is the ability to make the complex simple. I wonder what word to use for the restless urge to make the simple complex.

And now I am at the same paradox but not of nature’s, but of nature’s God. I understand God to be the highest thinker, the most complex being. And yet, He says that His kingdom is about simplicity. Maybe that’s His genius. Maybe the smartest thing for me to do is to spend the rest of my days finding the simple way.

[1] Mark 10:15
[2] Matthew 6:22
[3] Romans 12:8, 2 Corinthians 8:1-2
[4] 2 Corinthians 11:3
[5] Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Isaiah 61:1, Philippians 4:6

Monday, September 12, 2005

too simple to be true

We've read several of these Christian Heroes: Then & Now books. I overheard this one from the lunch-time reading today:

Sundar Singh (1889-1929), a former Sikh, became a Christian sadhu (holy man) and at great risk devoted his life to Christ. With bare feet and few possessions he crossed the precarious Himalayas between India and Tibet many times, sharing the gospel with Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and even thieves.

Once, on his way from Tibet back to India along the Hindustani-Tibet road, he heard of a holy man who had taken an oath of silence. Sundar made a detour to the village where the man lived and went to see him. He was immediately impressed with the fact that this sadhu was a genuine seeker of the truth. In his quest the old man had not spoken a word for six years. Sundar was eager to question him, and the old man offered him a slate and chalk.

On the slate Sundar wrote, “Didn’t God give us a tongue so that we can speak? Why do you not use yours to worship and praise the Creator instead of remaining silent?”

The sadhu thought for a moment and then erased Sundar’s question and wrote, “You are right. I’m sure God does want our praise, but my nature is so evil that I cannot hope for anything good to come out of my mouth. Therefore I have remained silent for six years. It is better that I remain silent until I receive some blessing or message that can help others.”

Sundar then told him about Jesus Christ and how His [resurrection] could change any person’s heart from evil to good, but the sadhu wrote that he found the idea too simple to be true, so Sundar parted from him without a word.

From Sundar Siungh: Footprints Over the Mountains by Janet & Geoff Benge

I think, too, that it is better to remain silent until receiving some blessing or message that can help others. And I have received such a message. The message is that your life matters to God, and He promises that if you simply turn to Jesus Christ and accept his offer of life, that He will restore your life so fully and completely that you will be glorious beyond imagination. It begins first in your heart, your deepest truest self, the one you refer to when you say “I” as God miraculously transforms your evil heart into a good heart, and then takes up residency there. From that seat of power, new Life spreads like yeast into every part of you—your thoughts, your body, and even beyond to your family, friends, community, culture, property, nature, and even the whole world.

Only until recently I thought that even as a believer in Jesus Christ my heart was bad, that it was in opposition to God, and that to believe otherwise was heretical. Why, I wonder, would the ones who propagate that not at least have the courage of conviction to remain silent like this sadhu? After all, "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." The truth is that the heart is central to the restoration of any of us. The truth is that a good heart is capable of not only retaining and producing, but also offering life to others. The truth is that some people do have good hearts, and how happy I was to find out that I was one of them! It changes everything. It changes the way I live, the way I look at sin and inconsistencies within myself, the way I look at others, the way I deal with conflicts. My heart is good, and if you believe in Jesus Christ your heart is good, too.

Too simple to be true? that simply accepting Christ’s offer of life made available by his resurrection is enough to transform a heart and life from evil to good? I think the best things are simple. Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Not even Solomon in all his glory was dressed out like one of them. Problems and conflicts and messages where lies and deceptions and rationalization have crept in are complicated. Life simply wants to live and to enjoy, to grow, and to speak. Isn't that true?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

dear ol' texas aggies

I just had this email forwarded to me. It's a memo from the President of Texas A&M, Robert Gates reporting the status of the Hurricane Katrina survivors that were taken in by the Aggies.

If this isn't Good Bull I don't know what is!

Dear Scott & Trayce,

I wonder if you know a Texas Aggie or two who would like to receive this. It will warm your heart.


Forwarded From: "President Robert M. Gates"
To: Faculty, Students and Staff
Subject: Relief Efforts at Texas A&M

Any Aggie of any age who believes the Spirit of Texas A&M is waning should have been at Reed Arena over the past three days.

Under an agreement with local government officials, Texas A&M has made Reed Arena available as a temporary shelter for a little over two hundred or so evacuees from New Orleans through September 9th. Probably like many parents and others, I was deeply concerned about security given what we all had read about violence in New Orleans. I only agreed to the use of Reed after being assured that the evacuees would be vetted, processed and security wanded at a facility elsewhere in Brazos County, wanded again upon arrival at Reed, and that University police and other security would be present at all times at Reed. Students who park at Reed Arena (mostly freshmen) will be parking elsewhere on campus for the week. The evacuees are escorted by non-students wherever they go.

I asked the Commandant of the Corps of Cadets, Lt. General John Van Alstyne, to take charge of this endeavor, in no small part because one of his last responsibilities at the Pentagon was taking care of displaced military families after 9/11. I also wanted a no-nonsense person in charge. He has told me that he is quite comfortable with the security arrangements. Either he or his chief of staff are at Reed 24/7.

Now to the best part. With little advance notice, Aggies sprang into action last Friday. The Corps of Cadets was asked on Friday afternoon to set up several hundred beds on the floor of Reed Arena; to help establish a structure for processing the evacuees; to make arrangements for them to shower and get new clothes; to help develop a process for medical checks; and so on. (Contrary to some rumors, the Corps was never asked or expected to provide security.) Lt. General Van Alstyne asked the Corps Commander, Matt Ockwood, for 300 volunteers to do these tasks. 900 cadets volunteered, and Reed Arena was ready after the cadets worked all night.

The first evacuees began to arrive around midnight Saturday. They had boarded busses in New Orleans that morning, had been driven to Dallas and then finally to College Station - all in one day. Of the more than 200 arrivals, most were families, including some 40 children and a number of elderly. They arrived exhausted, dirty, hungry and many in despair.

They then encountered an Aggie miracle. Clean beds (not cots but surplus beds from a refurbished Corps dorm), showers, hot food, medical treatment, baby supplies for mothers, toys for children and more. But most of all, what they encountered were a couple of hundred compassionate, caring Aggie cadets and other volunteers. The cadets escorted them to their assigned beds, and not only saw to their individual needs, but sat on the side of their beds with them, talked with them - treated them like they were a member of the family. The cadets made them feel welcome and cared about.

Sunday, when I visited Reed, I learned that the women of the Aggie Dance Team had organized and were running a distribution center for pillows, towels, bedding, personal hygiene kits, baby food, diapers and much more; that sorority women were running a child care facility for dozens of children, well supplied with toys, juice, coloring books and cartoon videos; and that plans were under way for other student leaders and students to replace the cadets, some of whom had been at Reed for more than 50 hours. Plans were underway for some of our athletes (and escorts) to take some of the evacuee boys ages 10-16 to the Rec Center to shoot hoops - boys perhaps including one I met who had treaded water under a bridge for 11 hours before being rescued by a helicopter. There is a communications room where the evacuees can use both telephone and internet to try to reach relatives and friends. The Red Cross, United Way, and other community organizations are right there on the Arena floor, and the Salvation Army is serving three meals a day. Escorted trips are being organized throughout the day to laundromats and stores. Area physicians, supplemented by the Aggie Care Team and the Health Science Center are available. Being treated with dignity, respect and compassion, our guests have responded accordingly.

Many other Aggie students are involved in the relief effort on campus, in the local community, and at our Galveston campus. Sunday afternoon, students organized a massive collection effort to gather canned food and clothes as part of the MSC's Open House. Student Government, led by Student Body President Jim Carlson, is planning other relief- associated activities, including helping organize more volunteers to work at Reed Arena the rest of this week.

By agreement with Brazos county officials, Reed Arena is a temporary location for these evacuees, and during this week, we are assured that most, if not all, of the evacuees will move to longer-term housing.

Aggies need to know that the past few days have been a high point in the history of Texas A&M as we have responded to this terrible disaster named Katrina. Seeing the desire to serve, the organizational skill, the willingness to work, the caring and compassion, and more, on the part of the Corps of Cadets, the Dance Team, the sororities and so many other students who have worked incredibly long hours - has been a profoundly moving experience. I do not know a single University official who, having watched our students over the past three days, does not choke up with emotion out of pride in these amazing young people.

And it's not just the students who have been amazing. It is also our staff, including those who today began admitting and helping up to 1,000 students displaced by the Hurricane. Faculty and administrators have volunteered as well, and also put in long hours to ensure that these displaced students can be processed into Texas A&M and their classes with speed and efficiency. I visited the processing center this morning and met many of the parents and students; I know now that they will never forget our generosity and warm welcome to Aggieland.

Aggies often speak of "the other education" here. My original intent had been to keep the evacuees entirely isolated from our students. Once assured of the safety of the students, that would have been the wrong decision. I have no doubt that the Aggie students who are participating in this extraordinary humanitarian endeavor will never forget it -- or what they are learning from it about crisis management and, far more importantly, about their own humanity and character. Nor do I doubt that the evacuees, all of whom are now wearing Texas A&M t- shirts, will always remember how these young people treated them and cared for them.

The hearts of every Aggie should swell with pride in what this University is doing for fellow Americans in trouble, and especially in what our students and staff are doing, to help those devastated by Hurricane Katrina. I thanked a University policeman inside Reed yesterday for what he was doing, and he looked at me with tears in his eyes and replied, "It's an honor to be here, sir."

Robert M. Gates President,
Texas A&M University

rock stars are people, too

Went to Thunderfest 2005 over the weekend and got a chance to interview Superchic[k] and BarlowGirl. Well, let me clarify. Courtney did the interview. I was the camera guy. And that video camera felt a whole lot like a fig leaf—the only thing standing between me and 6 girls in a room that couldn’t have been more than 4x6. Yeah. Intimidating. Thanks, Scott. Anyway they weren’t too tough on me.

It really was a great interview, and they opened up some about the real side of being on the road…of life. I always love hearing the story of a song, whether it’s a hymn or a headbanger or a ballad. There’s just something stirring about the often ugly mess that produces rich music. For me that’s true of a song whether it’s any good or not, and especially true for stuff that BarlowGirl and Superchick put out!

And of course we all felt like VIP’s when we took the stars’ bus over to the show and watched them rock the house!

When Superchick started playing something happened to the electronics that caused all their mics to blow. The event technicians worked frantically to get it re-patched so they could finish their set, but they really only got a couple of songs off. In a moment they went from being very rock star to very human as not only I but everyone felt the despair and frustration. Everyone was yelling “We love you!” and even started chanting for them and then for Jesus. I felt so bad for them and cheated out of some good music and mad at whoever was supposed to have made sure everything was wired and adequately powered . The worst part was that I heard them talking earlier about how they were saving their sound check until they took the stage because they would rather have it sound good for a half hour than risk something not getting reconfigured right. Ah! But all they really needed to get off was the one song they did: Hero. Wow. A clearly disheartened Tricia set it up like this:

Well I kind of feel the night is over before it's begun. But there's a reason for everything I guess. Thank you guys so much for being patient. And everything teaches us something if we let it, huh? By the way my name's Tricia. It's great to be here with you. It's beautiful here. Thank you for having us. Before we do this song if I can I’m gonna share a verse with you. This is Romans 12:1. “So then my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us, offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to His service, and pleasing to Him, this is the true worship that you should offer." And I wanna say to you guys something that seems simple but it’s just really been sinking in to me the last couple of years—that every day of our lives is a gift, and that every opportunity that we have is more than just…chance. And I believe that my life and your life, every one of you, has purpose, and that we’re here tonight for a purpose. And every day I think is full of choices that we have to make. And it gets confusing. And frustrating. But the most important choice that we have is the first one that we make every day when we wake up. We ask ourselves, ‘What am I gonna live for today?’ It’s really easy to live for ourselves. It’s our choice, and it’s the most important one that we can make, to decide that every morning when we wake up, we’re gonna say that no matter what happens today, even if most of our set gets taken up with technical difficulties, even if our plane is delayed, even if whatever happens, that I’m gonna choose to let my attitude be affected not by things around me, but I’m gonna let myself be guided by God. And I’m gonna let him use me everywhere I go as much as I can, because our choices affect more than just our lives. The decisions that you make and the way that you live your life today—it affects everyone around you. And you and I can choose to see that life is more than just what’s going on with us—there’s people around us and people that we know who are hurting and alone, and they need someone to reach out and love them. And it’s our opportunity to do what we’re commanded to do and to love people, because the choices that we make and the way that we treat people, and the way that we talk to them and the things that we say can change someone’s life forever. The choices that we make can make us heroes. This song is called Hero…

Hero (Red Pill Mix)
by Superchic[k]

No one sits with him, he doesn't fit in
But we feel like we do when we make fun of him
Cause you want to belong do you go along?
Cause his pain is the price paid for you to belong

It's not like you hate him or want him to die
But maybe he goes home and thinks suicide
Or he comes back to school with a gun at his side
Any kindness from you might have saved his life

Heroes are made when you make a choice

You could be a hero, heroes do what's right
You could be a hero, you might save a life
You could be a hero, you could join the fight
For what's right for what's right for what's right

No one talks to her, she feels so alone
She's in too much pain to survive on her own
The hurt she can't handle overflows to a knife
She writes on her arm, wants to give up her life

Each day she goes on is a day that she is brave
Fighting the lie that giving up is the way
Each moment of courage her own life she saves
When she throws the pills out a hero is made

Heroes are made when you make a choice

You could be a hero, heroes do what's right
You could be a hero, you might save a life
You could be a hero, you could join the fight
For what's right for what's right for what's right

No one talks to him about how he lives
He thinks that the choices he makes are just his
Doesn't know he's a leader with the way he behaves
And others will follow the choices he's made

He lives on the edge, he's old enough to decide
His brother who wants to be him is just nine
He can do what he wants because it's his right
The choices he makes change a nine year old's life

Heroes are made when you make a choice

You could be a heroHeroes do what's right
You could be a heroYou might save a life
You could be a hero, You could join the fight
For what's right for what's right for what's right

Little Mikey D. was the one in class
Who everyday got brutally harassed
This went on for years
Until he decided that never again would he shed another tear
So he walked through the door
Grabbed a .44
Out of his father's dresser drawer
And said I can't take life no more
And like that, life can be lost
But this ain't even about that
All of us just sat back
And watched it happen
Thinkin' it's not my responsibility to solve a problem that isn't about me
This is our problem
This is just one of the daily scenarios which we choose to close our eyes
Instead of doing the right thing
If we make a choice and be the voice
For those who won't speak up for themselves
How many lives would be saved, changed, rearranged
Now it's our time to pick a side
So don't keep walkin' by
Not wantin' to intervene
Cause you wanna exist and never be seen
So let's wake up and change the world
Our time is now!

Our time is now!

Our time is now!

Our time is now!

Superchick's new album is called Beauty from Pain, and from what I’ve seen I believe it. I love BarlowGirl. Always have, always will. Great music. Great family. And they were everything I hoped they would be. And even though I knew Superchick’s music before Sunday, they weren’t the favorite of mine they are now. In the whole show, they had the least music and the most heart. And heart is not for sale—not even to rock stars.


captivating life today

Went and saw John and Stasi Eldredge on Life Today Tuesday night. They were on to talk about Captivating, their new book. Stasi was amazing. Of course I knew John would bellow (as always) but Stasi really brought the power! I don't know what I expected, but I was in tears most of the first session. James Robison started with Wild at Heart and the battle for a man's heart that John revealed to the world (that God revealed to the world through John). Then they talked about something I have been talking about since January. The assault against women is nastier and more fierce by far than the assault on men. Period. Has been from the beginning (that garden in Eden thing). John suggested two reasons why this is true. The first was because of Lucifer's envy of Eve's beauty. He had been created perfect in beauty before he fell. And that's a big part of why he attacked her instead of Adam. He hates the beauty of the daughters of Eve as well because they still remind him of all that he has lost.

And they are beautiful! I can't remember when I began to allow myself to say that, but it's pretty recent, to my shame. Women are beautiful. What a divine thought. Their beauty is primarily (but not exclusively) how they glorify God—how they bear His image. And the hits just keep on comin' because Lucifer still hates it. He will bruise, cut, mame, mar, rape, pillage, plunder, mock, pervert, steal, kill, and destroy it any way he can. And I'm not just talking about the rampant violence from men against women all over the world all throughout time, but even the subleties of how they are deceived to hurt themselves and how we as a human race misunderstand and abuse their beauty. I posted a comment online a while back about the double-hit that beauty has taken.

So...the next morning I finished reading Job to my family during breakfast, and I was stunned at the conclusion of the book. The part about God speaking to Job? No. The part about God scolding Job's friends? No. The conclusion. The part about God giving Job three beautiful daughters who are NAMED though his seven sons are NOT, and are praised for their beauty, and are given an inheritance along with his sons! Now, I've read the book of Job many times. I am frankly enamored with it. But for some reason this part about Job's daughters never captivated me. I think it was because I had been lied to and had probably even lied to myself about a feminine beauty for so long that I read quickly over it. But this is amazing because in ancient texts and lineage in the bible girls are rarely named, and I don't know when any girl in the bible ever got a direct inheritance! But here it is stright from the page:

The LORD blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job's daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so he died, old and full of years.

Job 42:12-17

God makes sure to note that these ladies were really beautiful! (or as the KJV says, fair) In fact, that's all that was noted about them. Job names his first daughter Dove, his second Cinnamon, and his third Darkeyes. I can only imagine. And smile. And get mad too, because even though they survived Job and went on to enjoy blessed lives, their beauty was surely met with the same malice women find themselves hated with today.

Unfortunately my beautiful wife couldn't make the show. Being 9 months pregnant, she opted to watch it when it airs on September 19-21 rather than sit in a meat locker for several hours (yes James keeps that studio freezing cold). But I did enjoy the company of some of my other favorite people in the world.

here we are

Get up, GOD! Are you going to sleep all day?
Wake up! Don't you care what happens to us?
Why do you bury your face in the pillow?
Why pretend things are just fine with us?
And here we are—flat on our faces in the dirt,
Held down with a boot on our necks.
Get up and come to our rescue.
If you love us so much, Help us!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

can we help?

We drove over to Dallas to Reunion Arena yesterday afternoon to see what use we could be for the Katrina survivors who were seeking refuge there. I’m still amazed by the immensity of the natural disaster. People scattered throughout our great state—I heard yesterday that every hotel between New Orleans and here is booked, and we’re some 500 miles away! So we drove over without any idea what we would or could do, but with a will to help. As soon as we turned on to Reunion Boulevard, the cars were stacked up, the barricades were set up, police were giving orders, and we could see some of the national guard in their cammies here and there. I rolled down the window when I got to the policeman and just asked, “Can we help?” He said, “Nope. They already have all the donations and volunteers they need. They’re still taking donations at Texas Stadium, though.” I said thanks and rolled the window back up. The kids asked, “So are we going to go to Texas Stadium?” It was rather inhibitive—it looked like there were a lot of people but that everything was blocked off. I felt small, late to the party, and insignificant. Why did I come down here anyway? Who do I think I am? But then I straightened myself.

“Kids, that man gave himself away. What did he say?”
“Uh, to go to Texas Stadium?”
“That they don’t need any more volunteers?”
“Exactly. And now I know he wasn’t telling us the truth. Why?”
“Because you never have enough volunteers.”
“Well, what are we going to do?”
“We’re going to find a place to park a mile from here if we have to, and walk over here and help these people…somehow…I dunno.”

Once we got around the corner we saw it. Someone had a barbecue lit and was cooking hotdogs. People were EVERYWHERE! And then around the corner—a place to park. For free! I have never parked in downtown Dallas for free, I don’t care what I was doing. But the city had taped posterboard over the signs saying how much it was to park, and all the gates were up.

Under the parking garage at Reunion, they had a huge area set up with donations—everything from cold drinks and food to soap and perfume to shoes and clothing to books and toys. The first thing they told us was that these donations were all just from the good people of Dallas—not Red Cross or the Salvation Army or another relief organization! Actually, those organizations were all involved, but that's not what this was. They also had a big PA system set up with some Christians running it, making announcements and music, etc. (actually I wasn’t sure what kind of music I was listening to, but I finally figured out it was Christian rap). Some volunteers were braiding hair and giving foot massages and other things like that. We all found small ways to pitch in and help. I think Benjamin was most interested in what they were cooking, but I wouldn’t let him get any of the free food—we went back to the car for some chips and crackers we brought. And then I started noticing trash everywhere. Oh wow—I thought—someone is going to have to come back down here and pick up all this trash when everything is done—but then I thought—let’s do it now. So we did that. The next thing you know the guy made an announcement that they needed 10 men to go out to the dumpster and stomp down the trash. Grace later said, “I knew that you were going to do that, Daddy.” Of course she was right. One of the other guys stomping and sweating with me said “Heh, when I was a kid we did this for fun!” “Yeah,” I replied, “And now we’re doing it for…fun!” It truly was a joy. And I had a “leg of many colors” when it was all done, and I think somehow we all escaped without bee stings. (hehe)

The kids didn’t want to leave and couldn’t wait to go back, so we made another trip last night. There wasn’t nearly as much activity as in the afternoon, so we had a chance to talk to a few people. One woman was their with her toddler who was looking through the hill of toys. He was really cute. Grace had made some pillows to give away and so we made them an offer.

"Where are you from?” I asked.
“New Orleans.”
“Wow. So where are you staying now? In Reunion Arena?”
“No, we’re living at the Crown Plaza for two weeks.”
“oh really?”
“Yes, they are giving us a free room for two weeks.”
“Sweet. And after two weeks, then what?”
“I don’t know.”

I’m sure every single person who visited us has a different story, but every story in some way converges on Katrina. And of course every story converges back to THE story…the story of God.

I didn’t actually know what was going on inside the arena until last night. We went up and talked with one of the security guards at the main door. She seemed familiar, and as we talked we figured out that we had met at the Promise Keepers events—she was posted at section 115—that was it! She told us that there were about 2,000 people there sleeping on cots who had been bussed up from the Superdome. Earlier we saw some of those folks, and also some who had their own transportation and had made it out before the storm hit. They were all looking through the stuff and filling their Container Store bags with stuff for the next leg of their journey. I took some video and a few pictures. They had a bulletin board area on the front glass where a lot of people posted stuff—looking for a place to stay, offering a place to stay. It was amazing how many people were willing to take others in, and heart wrenching when people posted “missing a loved one” signs. I’m posting pictures of some of the signs, some in English, some in Spanish. I can only imagine that every bulletin board, electronic or otherwise, within 500 miles of New Orleans or Biloxi tells a similar tale.

I feel like God has given each of us an invitation in this. For some maybe it is to wake up. For others maybe to listen to what He’s been saying for some time. For some it’s to straighten up. For some it’s an offer to make a bold move. For some maybe it’s an offer to take a risk and help someone else. There are as many invitations and conversations as there are people. One interesting sign that brought tears to my eyes when I saw it said,

We are Americans first and Texans second.

Now that I think about it, we are humans first, children of God, image bearers. Of course we would take care of our brothers and sisters.


helping out

no exemption for babies

cute kids






my favorite sign






















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