Friday, December 29, 2006

The Bad Taste of Christianese

Have you ever eaten Chinese food only to have the aftertaste of MSG-saturated, mystery meat linger on your taste buds for hours? I’ll admit, I’m no fan of Asian cuisine, period. It may have more to do with my mom force feeding us Chop Suey out of a can and my suspicion about the ingredients than is truly warranted, but I usually hit a fast food drive-thru when the rest of my family wants Chinese food.

My avoidance of Chinese restaurants was recently bolstered by a bad experience at one. Similar negative experiences at church now have me wondering if I’ll begin avoiding them like the plague, too. Allow me to explain.

(Note: The churches in this story shall remain unnamed.)

I attended a Christmas play performed by the children at my parent’s church just over a week ago. It was your standard fare of “us versus the world,” evangelical mentality, focused more on what’s wrong with the world, and in this case politically-correct municipal government, than it was with the miraculous story of the Savior’s birth.

I was impressed that the pastor did not get up to preach before or after the play. That was pleasing and quite atypical for an Assemblies of God church. The pastor’s wife, however, felt the need to begin preaching after the show because no good AG service can end without a proper altar call. She went on and on about blood sacrifice, covenant relationship, Jesus’ atonement for our sins ad nauseum. I was disappointed. Why ruin a perfectly good performance by the kids at church—my niece as Angel #2 in the Nativity was a Tony-worthy performance—with Christianese? Did the pastor’s wife really think that people would accept the offer of Christ after a kid’s play??? It barely even touched on the Good News of Jesus!

A few days later, I attended a Christmas Eve Service with my parents at their old church. It wasn’t any better. Instead of a reverent Communion Service, we were surprised to find ourselves taking in a musical performed mostly by puppets. That’s right, I said puppets! It was like Jim Henson meets Jimmy Swaggart, only the latter would NEVER have approved of the music.

We heard rip-offs of everything from Jay-Z to Van Halen. When some long-haired puppets on instruments began performing a song called “Santa Claus” to the tune of Van Halen’s “Panama,” I almost got my girls and left the church. I laughed. I cried. It was the worst Christmas Eve Service ever!

At one point, I turned to my wife and my mother and bemoaned how I missed the Catholic Church. And right on cue, the pastor of the church—I’m not sure of their Protestant affiliation—got up and gave an altar call. Do I even need to question the relevance? Not even an on-the-fence heathen would have fallen heavenward from laughing so hard at the sight of a Sammy Hagar look-alike puppet singing “Santa Claus.”

Thanks to recent experiences at church, I now have the bad taste of Christianese in my mouth. It has lingered there now for days. I’ve tried everything from mouthwash to meditation, but cannot remove the foul flavor from my buds.

Truth be told, I’ll eat at 10 Chinese restaurants before I’ll visit either one of those churches again. I hate Christianese that much!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Jesus Was On NBC's Today Show!

Did you see him?

Jesus made a surprise appearance this morning on NBC's Today Show!

In the spirit of the holidays, Today Show producers decided to share a video from NBC's Minneapolis affiliate. It was part of a series called "Land of 10,000 Stories," an obvious play on the Minnesota state motto. The piece by KARE-TV's Boyd Huppert is called Art of Compassion and it painted a living portrait of Jesus. Who knew he lived in Utah?

The article hardly does justice to the video segment aired nationally by Today Show. It literally moved me to tears. Here is a woman, moved by compassion for others and her passion for the arts, who is being the earthly representation of an unearthly kind of Love.

If you read or have read the New Testament accounts of Jesus, then you know that he said to look for him in some unlikely places. Well, NBC found him on a farm in rural Utah, loving complete strangers and bringing healing to their inner wounds. I was humbled by the unlikely appearance.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

In everything give thanks...

Today I am thankful for my wife...for her courage, strength, optimism, perseverence and her love.

Our marriage has overcome some mountainous obstacles, not the least of which was a seemingly insurmountable challenge we faced over the last six months. With God's grace, we made it over the summit and are carefully navigating the steep, rocky decent on the other side.

I am thankful that our marriage did not succumb, like so many others, to the perils of infidelity, insecurity, apathy, depression, grief or pride. We fought through as a united front to get to where we are today.

And though our next challenge was self-made, we face it with more courage, excitement and unity than we've ever had in our married life. I am thankful for this next adventurous leg of our journey, and that I have such a willing and competent partner with which to share it. I am doubly thankful for the two blessings we carry on this leg of the journey with us--namely Merikathryn and Makenna. For their sake, as much as ours, I am thankful that God helped us over the summit in September of this year.

Thanksgiving has a whole new meaning this year, like it did in 2001.

Because I have received so bountifully, I want to learn to be a more cheerful and active giver. Generosity has not always come so easy for me, but I am slowly learning. I hope that you, too, have plenty to be thankful for this holiday season. I also hope that you remember the poor and the downtrodden in your community. Don't let this opportunity pass to be a blessing to someone in need. That said, I encourage you with the following:

The Cheerful Giver
But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written (in Psalms 112:9):

He has dispersed abroad,
He has given to the poor;
His righteousness endures forever.

Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. (2 Corinthians 9: 6-11, NKJV)

Proverbs on Giving
Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing,
but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed. (Prov. 28:27, NLT)

Blessed are those who are generous,
because they feed the poor. (Prov. 22:9, NLT)

He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker,
But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him. (Prov. 14:31, NASV)

Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor
will be ignored in their own time of need. (Prov. 21:13, NLT)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Human Trafficking? C'mon it's Slavery!

Let’s be real and just call a spade a spade, for once. Human trafficking is nothing more than modern-day slavery. The “trafficking” of human life in any era sickens me, whether it is Asian women sold today on the black market as prostitutes or the African male sold years ago as a slave. People are not disposable commodities to be bought and sold or traded for, period.

The fact that this is part of our American heritage saddens me. I hate that I cannot raise my daughters without facing this grotesque reality. Sure, while they are young, I can try to teach them to be colorblind and to treat all people as they would want to be treated, but the sad truth is, we’ll have to cross that bridge one day.

One day, when my daughters are old enough to understand and make rational judgments about such matters, I will have to explain to them what racism is and how it festers like an open wound on the soul of America. When my daughters hear racial slurs at school or one of them is taunted or teased for being 50% African-American, I will have to tell the story of slavery, discrimination and hate that mars our collective, national past.

I hate that.

I want my daughters to believe that all people are created equal like it says in our Declaration of Independence. I never want them to look down on others for reasons of race, religion, gender or nationality. I want them to learn how to love all people no matter how different they are. But in being honest with them, I have to teach them about our history. I have to let them know the events that have shaped our society. I have to let them know about the prejudices that helped to shape our family. Maybe they will learn not only from their parents’ and grandparents’ mistakes, but from the mistakes of our forefathers, as well.

I wish I could teach my girls to be colorblind, but history and society won’t allow it. Maybe their generation will finally put an end to slavery once and for all. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll have the courage to call things as they are, and not hide behind politically correct, yet morally reprehensible terms like “human trafficking.”

Friday, October 27, 2006

Your Florida Home Awaits!

Nestled on the oustkirts of Tallahassee on a canopy road is this 5-year-old, one owner home. It features a spacious 1900 sq.ft., split floor plan with four bedrooms and two full baths. Great location for schools--Canopy Oaks Elementary--and for shopping--two minutes from Oak Valley Publix, CVS and Dollar General and 10 minutes from Tallahassee Mall. Easy access to I-10 from Capital Circle or U.S. 27 (Monroe St).

Nearly half an acre with fenced back yard, room for pets to run and frontage on Old Bainbridge Road. Spacious two-car garage with room for an SUV and a family-sized sedan.

FOR SALE BY OWNER - $245,900

5069 Old Bainbridge Road

Call for appointment:

(850) 878-6893

Friday, August 04, 2006

Tree Hugger Homer

Okay, no one who knows me would ever label me a "tree hugger," a Homer for sure, but not an avid environmentalist. Still, my newfound appreciation for all that God is and all that He's given us, I find it a bit disturbing that societies as advanced as ours cannot deal with rampant pollution, raping of the earth's natural resources, and the like. We really need to get some kind of handle on our consumeristic, addictive tendencies, because right now we don't even have a grasp! But I cannot say it as well--or as humorously--as the writer of this article:

Thanks to my friend Roger in the UK for linking me to it!

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Wheeling Covered Bridge, near the farm, was built in 1877...pretty cool piece of history Posted by Picasa

This is Cornutopia, btw! Posted by Picasa

My great grandfather's farm house...beautiful but in need of repairs Posted by Picasa

Francisco, IN...near Princeton (my birthplace) Posted by Picasa

My grandparents on mom's side...buried at Fairview Presbyterian in Francisco, IN...near where my great aunt was buried last Friday Posted by Picasa

Pics from my recent Indiana trip... Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

My baby turns 5 today! Hard to believe, but she's got me wrapped right around her little finger! HAPPY BIRTHDAY MY SWEET GIRL!!! You are SO big and I'm SO proud of you! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Indiana Wants Me...Can I Go Back There?

Having an emotional day--my last day in the town of my birth--as I prepare to leave for home in the morning. I haven't been back to Princeton in awhile and things have changed. At my great aunt's funeral this week, I found out that one of her two surviving siblings has a controlling share of my great grandfather's farm. His plans are to demolish the age-old farmhouse and reconstruct a new one on the site. Many of my relatives and I wish that he'd just restore Grandpa Dunning's homeplace, so that we can continue to reminisce every October at the Dunning reunion held on that property.

Besides my uncle's plans to alter this family icon and place of so many childhood memories for me, the entire area is undergoing change. Many farms have sold their mineral rights to a strip mining company who is raping the land for it's rich coal. For those not familiar with this type of mining, it pretty much destroys the landscape. So instead of green fields of corn and beans as far as the eye can see, there are mounds of dirt, clay and coal within a mile of my family's farm.

Adding to my melancholy, many of the town's old homes and buildings have been let go or simply demolished due to lack of funds or interest in historic preservation. In fact, the McConnell home downtown where I first learned to tie my shoelaces is no longer there. That took me by surprise during an early morning walk on Friday. The town square looks ratty...hardly the proper backdrop to a classic courthouse that is one of the few historic places being adequately maintained.

I wish I had unlimited funds to purchase the family farm from my great uncle and do something to help boost the local economy, preserve more of the town's rich history and relocate back in the place my grandparents all called home (and several generations before that on mom's side).

Call it nostalgia or whatever, but I've got this pull back to my roots that I can't explain. If only I could afford to move back here....more on this topic once I get the pictures that I took today developed (didn't bring my digital camera with me like I shoulda)...

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Fathers' Day Tribute to Bowden

In honor of Fathers’ Day which just ended about an hour ago, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my favorite pastime, watching FSU Football. This is an appropriate reflection for post-Fathers’ Day since the coaching staff of my favorite college team boasts a famous father-son tandem. All I have to say is Bowden, and every football fan in the country knows the family name. If only the word nepotism carried the same recognition value by the elder Bowden. If you know anyone in the FSU Athletics Office, you might want to pass along this definition and the proper phonetic pronunciation of the word (ne-PO-tism):

Favoritism shown or patronage granted to relatives, as in business.

You see, Bobby’s son Jeff serves as a receivers coach and co-offensive coordinator (co- because he couldn’t do the job himself). He’s languished for years in the role of play-caller and overall architect of the Seminole offense. The underlying fear among the Seminole faithful is that Bobby will put a vote of confidence in his son as successor if the wily ol’ veteran ever retires. Dadgum if that don’t beat all!

As an FSU alum and 18 year supporter of everything garnet and gold, I am downright scared about the next season with the junior Bowden in the coaches’ box, headset on ready! I’ve been following the “Fire Jeff Bowden” bandwagon as it fills and refills each season (or after each loss). I’m concerned that its movement seems to stall about December 1st every year, after the disappointment of yet another sub-par season fades away.

I want to keep the momentum going lest FSU officials feel that things in the Seminole Nation have calmed and that the tribe is one. We cannot rest easy knowing that another season looms just over the horizon. The excitement of Seminole Saturday Nights (and the occasional Thursday) is about to light up the west side of Tallahassee. Thousands of warpaint-clad fanatics will clamor for seats inside the Bowden castle so they can go hoarse doing the fearful warchant. And yet, we’ll still have to suffer through countless 3rd and long situations and drive-killing, mind-numbing reverses. Again, we’ll watch the Bowden braintrust abandon the run quicker than Weatherford can say “hike!” And, again, we’ll hear senior Bowden make the same, weary excuses for junior.

If you care one iota about FSU football, you’ll help me man the bandwagon that will hopefully steer Jeffy to a faraway place where football is merely an extracurricular exercise. Don’t let the pressure up. Visit my friends at and show your true Seminole pride!

Oh, and Happy Belated Fathers’ Day to dads everywhere!!!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Defending the Bridegroom?

I've considered myself a Christian since childhood, but only got serious about the cause of Christ at age 18. During my adulthood, I've witnessed many well-meaning, and not so well, but misguided attempts by those who believe they've cornered the market on truth and discernment to correct the rest of us. These self-appointed defenders of the faith--of absolute Truth--have made it their life's mission to point out the fallacy, the error, the downright blasphemy and heresy of those who don't hold to the same absolutes, propositions or interpretations of Scripture as them.

Lately, I've had a run in with a number of these hypocritical and hypercritical people. Since stepping out into this mysterious conversation often termed the E.C. (for emerging church or emergent conversation), I've been called everything from a weak-minded twit to a dangerous heretic. And not that insults hurled at me by anonymous online do-gooders really do much lasting damage, but I get tired of having the same debates over and over again.

Most recently, a forum that I participate in was singled out by a rogue, rightwing unit of the Calvary Chapel denomination, called Apostasy Alert. The leader claims that me and my online cohorts were trying to take the modern church back to the Dark Ages and Romanize evangelical Christianity all over again. The message thread was about one woman's nostalgic use of the rosary, a family heirloom, to aid her in contemplative prayer. The discussion was blown way out of proportion by the leader of Apostasy Alert and taken out of context to support her anti-Catholic rhetoric.

But I don't mean to single out one organization. There are thousands just like it in every denomination of Christianity. Want proof? Just Google the phrases "false teacher" or "false prophet" and you'll get over 20 million and 9.7 million hits respectively. Yes, I said million.

I understand that these people/organizations stake their tents to the Pauline warnings against false teachings (see 2 Cor. or 1 Tim.), but honestly who appointed them as God's watchdogs? When does Paul's letter to a first century church or a young disciple override the commands of the Christ to "love your enemies?" In Matthew 7 and Luke 6, Jesus tells the hypocritical defenders of the Torah to take care of the speck in their own eye. And wouldn't alleged heretics and apostates fall under the category of "enemies" to Christianity? So when do we turn the other cheek? Only if admitted pagans and heathens speak against us?

My problem with these defenders of Truth goes even further. Since when does God need any human to jump to His defense? Isn't Jesus the Bridegroom? Why on earth would a bridegroom need to rely on his bride to defend his honor, let alone the Bridegroom who is Christ???

If these self-appointed watchdogs, loaded to bear with Scriptures and ready to cut-and-paste at a moment's notice, were to put a tithe of their time and energy into actually helping a widow, a prisoner or an orphaned child, wouldn't they be exponentially more fulfilled? They might actually find the Jesus they're so worried about defending. We need more love and grace in the world, not millions of self-rightious do-gooders hellbent on making sure everyone understands how wrong, lost or hellbound they are!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Making Java History

Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 'Gift From the Sea'

Okay, I didn't want to blog about this until I had gone java-free for one week...and here I am! I haven't suffered headaches or dt's or excessive irritability (above my normal level) since kicking the coffee habit last Thursday.

In fact, as I sit here and type, I'm enjoying my first cup of decaf since going java-free, cold turkey. Now, this wasn't a well thought out decision. It was more spur of the moment. But last Wednesday, after drinking the strongest coffee i've ever made, I sat at work trembling from the caffeine and sugar rush (yes I drink it black with a heapin' helpin' of sugar). That day, I said to myself, "Self...this isn't good. I need to kick the caffeine habit." The next day...cold turkey. I was a little worried because I've gotten headaches before on days where I skipped the Columbian morning boost.

Well, thankfully, no headaches and we're a week into this new life. I'm not saying I've kicked the habit forever. This is not some religious ritual that I'll keep faithfully. But I feel that the limited caffeine intake (we already drink decaf tea) will be a good thing for my health. So if you've never had the courage to bypass the Starbucks, to go half decaf or to kick the habit altogether, take heart! There is life on the other side!

Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

A Ragamuffin Reality

There is a man in town who likes to darken the sidewalk near the busiest intersections and shout at passers-by with Bible in hand and signage that suggests they are bound for eternal torture. Recently, I passed him on my way home from work, but this time there were numerous others sharing the same street corner and joining him in his tirade against heathenistic, hell-bound Tallahasseans.

You know, I can't help but think of all the good that he and his ilk are doing for the kingdom of God. I mean, if "you're all going to hell" isn't the Good News...then I don't know what is! I guess that is why the following quote leapt off the page at me when I read it in chapter six of Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel:

The ministry of evangelization is an extraordinary opportunity of showing gratitude to Jesus by passing on His gospel of grace to others. However, the "conversion by concussion" method, with one sledgehammer blow of the Bible after another, betrays a basic disrespect for the dignity of the other and is utterly alien to the gospel imperative to bear witness. To evangelize a person is to say to him or her, You, too, are loved by God in the Lord Jesus. And not only to say it but to really think it and relate it to the man or woman so they can sense it. This is what it means to announce the Good News. But that becomes possible only by offering the person your friendship--a friendship that is real, unselfish, without condescension, full of confidence, and profound esteem (p.124, softcover).

My guess is that the passers-by could care less about the man's/group's theology or eschatology and are more than a little perturbed at the message. I'm also guessing that if they were to fold up tent and move on that little difference would result. I'm further guessing that if they were to take all that hellfire-and-brimstone gusto and turn it into social action--like feeding the homeless at the local shelter or volunteering at the food bank or (fill-in the blank here)--that they might actually find Jesus themselves!

And what if they were to truly practice the age-old saying, "make a friend, be a friend, bring a friend to Christ?" Would they not be more in line with the gospel message of Jesus that even "ragamuffins" have a place at the table??

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

In my CD Changer...

...i have an assortment of music today including the following cd's:

"torniquet" kicks serious booty!

plus a couple of homemade compilations of 80's music!

Monday, May 15, 2006

God at the Gulf

Four and one half years ago, I had a close encounter with God in the dunes on Panama City Beach. I awoke early one morning while on vacation, wrapped my 4-month-old daughter in a wool blanket, and set out for a pre-dawn walk on the beach. I retreated up into the dunes in a deserted state park with my peacefully sleeping bundle of joy. We sat quietly in the cool, white sand as the sun began to emit its first rays of light over the horizon. I was so overwhelmed in that moment by the miracle I held in my hands and by the beauty I beheld with my eyes that my heart filled with joy and praise. I knew that I was closer to God in that pre-dawn hour than at any moment before or since. I was so thankful for the gift of life.

Fast forward to Mother's Day Weekend 2006...

I'm up again pre-dawn. This time, I'm vacationing in Miramar Beach at Destin, one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Florida. The full moon hangs like an incandescent peach over the waters of the Gulf. The first light of morning has just crested the horizon. My feet are nearly buried in the cool, white sand, as I scan this breathtaking panorama. Clouds are silhouted in hues of purple against the orange glow in the east while the sinking moon shrouds itself with thin grey clouds in the west. I can barely make out the shadows of two porpoises as they arch their way along a sandbar about 150 yards from the shoreline. Right in front of me, two sandpipers are playing "catch me if you can" with the incoming tide. It was a dreamy moment, to say the least. I knew that I was again close to God.

I think I will live at the beach one day...and I'll kick the coffee habit for good. Waking up to picturesque mornings like these make the need for cafeine seem obsolete. These encounters with God also make any and all church experiences I've had pale in comparison. I think that I'd like to live close to God on the Gulf of Mexico one day.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Themes of God in Scripture

A recent thread on the Ooze got some of us debating the "Word of God" and what that means. Here's what I posted several days ago:

i think we should talk more in terms of the "themes" of god, instead of putting actual words in his mouth...i mean does anyone know what language he speaks? what literal words did he say to put the stars, the sun and moon in place? "let there be light"? was that in king james english?

i mean, honestly, "word of god" is really just a metaphor anyway, isn't it? if someone were to record the literal word of god today, with our technology, could we then download it as an mp3? would it hold up in the court of christianity?

i'd rather see a discussion about the "themes of god" and where we see them woven throughout scripture, human nature, the intrinsic beauty of the world around us, etc.

was the "word" actually spoken audibly to the prophets or did they receive some divine impression in their spirit or mind? and how does the word actually become flesh? either it's in verbal or printed form...i mean if it is a literal word, right?

but if word is just a metaphor for divine themes, then we can see how those themes were lived out by they provided an impetus for everything he did or said...and how they can motivate us to righteous action

because when jesus actually spoke "divine words" he often put them in parable form, but we seem to want to take every literal word printed in the bible as a literal story about a historic event...if jesus is the "word made flesh" and he dealt in metaphors and parables, then what's to say that's not how god has been speaking all along?

and if we do strictly deal in themes, taking literal accounts of the flood, per se, and taking them as parables with a theme, then have we really changed anything? wasn't gods intent to get us to think about the things in our heart? not to see if we'd build an ark every time it rains, or an altar every time we see a rainbow

so, what are some of your favorite themes?

btw, if you're interested in weighing in on the discussion over at the ooze, click here

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

High School Reunions

I've been working diligently on save the date postcards for my 20-year high school reunion. Here's the artwork that my wife and I came up with for the front of the card. The back just has the dates and contact information on one side and mailing info on the other. I'm pretty proud of what we came up with. We're thinking about turning this into a mock movie poster for the reunion, but using this version for letterhead for future mailings, etc.

It's funny that I even volunteered to help plan this one...more out of pure disgust over the 15-year reunion than anything. Not "ha ha" funny, but peculiar, only because my high school experience wasn't all that great. However, I broke down and went back five years ago and had a blast! Despite the reunion itself--in the basement cafeteria of our old high school in August with no A/C--I had a great time catching up with some old friends...and a few classmates that only now do I count as such.

I have to give many thanks to my Indy counterparts who are doing the lion's share of the work, as I am currently living 900 miles away. To Amy, Mike, Suzie, Joe and sincerest thanks! This is going to be one helluva reunion.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

King's X, Baby!

Okay, tonight/this morning I had an out of body experience. For the first time, I got to experience King's X live in concert. This is one of my all-time favorite bands, made up of Ty Tabor (guitars), Doug Pinnick (lead vocals, bass) and Jerry Gaskill (drums). They played in a small bar in Tallahassee, providing a very intimate setting. There were probably only 50-60 people there...and I was literally 10 feet from Ty, stage right.

It was incredible!

They played a lot of their new music which I'm not yet familiar with...but what made my night was the song "A Box" (which serves as my sig line on the Ooze), followed by a classic "Visions" from their very first cd Out of the Silent Planet.

Just to put this in perspective for you...I've been following this band for over 18 years. A friend put said cassette in my hands in 1988 and it blew me away. I wore out the cassette player in my Fiero, especially on long trips to Atlanta. King's X was grunge/hardcore before those terms were even popular.

I only reconnected with their music on a deeper level recently, as I began my journey into postmodern/emergent Christianity...and their lyrics became so much more poignant! I thanked Doug Pinnick last night for impacting my faith...what a cool, once-in-a-lifetime moment!

It was a truly spiritual experience.

If you want to learn more about this underground success, now entering their 25th year together, check out their Official Website.

Okay, I'm going to bed with a really big smile on my face...thank you, God, for simple pleasures and once-in-a-lifetime encounters!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Point Of It All--Part II

I purposely ended my last post before launching into one of my favorite subjects—Grace.

This topic has come up in some recent threads on The Ooze, so I’ve had a few opportunities to put words to my emerging beliefs about it.

What I’ve noticed is that when you talk to Christians, the responses you get to grace are as varied as the number of mainline denominations in America. I know that my understanding of the concept of grace has deepened and evolved over the last 16 years.

What I’m beginning to grasp is that grace really is a free gift from God, but it is a gift unopened and unused (I can hear diehard Calvinists cringing at the thought). In other words, God placed the hugest, best, most sufficient present under the cosmic Christmas tree, but it is up to us, the recipient, to unwrap it, to use it and to enjoy.

The point of it all is that grace is to be shared. Jesus said, “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” In other words, the more we use it and share it, the more we enjoy it. God wants His grace multiplied in the earth. And we are the conduits of that grace.

If all we do is talk about grace as a concept, in theological terms, then we become a bunch of windbags. God has not called us to be the pied pipers, hoping our song and dance will lead others to the gift of grace. He’s called us to action. We are participants in this redemption narrative called the Good News. We are the conduits of God’s grace in the earth. That requires action, not just words, concepts or theologies…and certainly not some song and dance (a shout out to my charismatic friends).

I truly believe this is what the apostle James was getting at when he wrote, “faith without deeds is useless.” I’ve always struggled with that verse in James 2:20. I always wondered where the balance point was between grace and works, because I was taught that praying the sinners’ prayer and making an honest confession were all that God required.

Grace is as useless to humankind as the unopened present under the tree holding all that blessed potential. The only way grace can be enjoyed is to be used in some way. That is where good deeds enter the faith equation. We must actively put grace into practice daily, so that its potential to change the world is unleashed. After all, who wants to play with an unopened gift? That’s all this concept of grace really is unless we use it, share it. And that’s the point, isn’t it?

Jesus said that we should feed His sheep, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit those in prison and so forth. Food to a starving person is Good News. It’s like the manna raining down from heaven. A friend to someone who is incarcerated and possibly shunned by their own family is Good News. Grace in action can take many forms, large or small.

God’s purpose is not just to fill some cosmic void called Heaven. He’s not a spurned lover looking to mere mortals for companionship. He wants His creation restored, healthy and whole. He’s poured out grace sufficient for the task at hand. What are we doing with it? Are we active participants in sharing the Good News? Are we conduits of His grace?

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Point of It All...

“What’s the point of it all?,” you may have asked once or twice before. I’ve been asking that a lot lately…not because I feel hopeless and desperate for answers, but because I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching and rethinking my faith.

In my last post about being destination minded, I touched on what I think is a root issue with too many professing Christians. They say they have this “great commission,” but if you ask them what that is, they’ll probably say something along the lines of “winning souls, making converts or leading others to Christ.” I’m not saying that this is misguided or wrong, but I often question the motivation and techniques. It’s not the “what” so much as the “why” that bothers me.

It has been my experience that most Christians are concerned with how many folks they’ve led to Christ…meaning led to an altar somewhere (not necessarily in church), but definitely resulting in something resembling “the sinner’s prayer” (as if there is a script). They are concerned about getting these folks “cleaned up and in church,” because that’s the natural progression of things.

The central motivation seems to be that we need to “save” as many people from hellfire as possible. We feel that the only good fruit is the number of converts we’ve “won.” We envision The Father keeping a scorecard just like our Sunday school teachers used to do on the chalk/poster/felt board.

Likewise, we support church plans and programs that promote our evangelistic agenda. We imagine that if we combine our efforts with some slick church marketing we’ll double and triple our production of converts. After awhile, it becomes increasingly apparent that we’re just small cogs in the assembly line to mass produce baby Christians. And that’s what Jesus was about, right? Winning souls by the millions? Increasing the size of His kingdom through mass marketing?


The real point of all this is to expand His kingdom one person at a time, which may or may not include you “walking them down the Roman Road” or “leading them through the sinners’ prayer.” God is totally capable of bringing in all the lost and wayward souls He wants or needs in His kingdom, but I don’t think He’s trying to reach some occupancy limit in heaven.

I believe He’s building His kingdom right here on the earth. His purpose is to reconcile, repair and restore. He’s using Jesus-centered people of every race and walk of life to accomplish that. He’s given us grace…and it is sufficient enough for every person with whom we come into contact.

Stay tuned for more on the subject of this grace…

Monday, March 20, 2006

Destination Mindedness

I have always wrestled with my propensity to look beyond where I am to where I’m going. The destination has always been foremost in my mind and it has caused me to miss several “points of interest” along the way. I have made a conscious effort ever since adopting my girls to try and embrace the present, to savor the moment, to stop and smell the flowers.

Case in point, we were at the neighborhood playground on Sunday, just the three of us (my girls and I). I had a headache and was ready to get home. My oldest daughter (4 ½) insisted on going to the swings at the other end of the playground. Begrudgingly, I took my youngest daughter down there, too, and began pushing them both…my 2-year-old in the baby swing and her sister in the “big girl” swing adjacent to her. When the younger of them began giggling, I was jolted out of my “let’s hurry this up and go home” thought pattern. I immediately recognized this moment for what it was…precious…priceless.

As I continued to push my daughters, alternately, one hand on the eldest’s backside, then one hand on the baby swing, I cherished the moment and forgot about the destination. I soaked in the warm afternoon sunshine, enjoyed my baby’s giggle and relished the time with my daughters that seems to be passing so quickly already.

I’ve thought about this for the last 20 hours or so…and have come to recognize my destination-mindedness. It has always been this way…on long trips with my wife, on weekend excursions with my daughters, in my relationship with God.

God didn’t just put me here on this planet to always be thinking of heaven, my final destination. He didn’t send His Son to this planet in a big hurry to get “home,” either. If I am to pattern my life after that of the Good Shepherd, then I need to be less about the destination and more about the day-to-day journey…helping people when and where I can.

Thank you, God, for making me less destination minded. Help me to enjoy life’s journey, every little part.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Places of Worship

One of my favorite places to worship is at Camp Suwannee in Dowling Park, Florida. This beautiful campground is situated on the Suwannee River in North Florida and is adorned with huge cypress, oak, pine and plenty of Spanish moss. But what makes this place so special is a retreat weekend that is held there twice a year, called North Florida Tres Dias.

I made a Tres Dias weekend in October 1989 and have served on several weekends since…all of them at Camp Suwannee. The campground has several buildings, including a large gymnasium with windows across the back wall that allow a majestic view of the river’s meandering black water. At that end of the gym sits our makeshift chapel.

Imagine evening chapels at sunset, moss-draped live oaks silhouetted against an orange and purple sky, vibrant colors bouncing off the ripples in the river bend. It’s more beautiful than any painting.

In this surreal setting, 150 men gather to offer scripted and unscripted prayers, to meditate, to sing hymns and spiritual songs and to simply spend time with God. Miles away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, we’re offered this special place in which to worship our Creator.

Not only does the beautiful, natural setting inspire worship, but the almost tangible presence of God does so even more. We can thank the prayers of many saints for that. During a Tres Dias weekend, people of faith from all over the world are lifting up prayers on our behalf. Many men and women from our own community, mostly North Florida and South Georgia, plus others from far away lands, like Brisbane (Australia) and Florence (Italy) and points in-between. I believe that the massive amounts of prayer coupled with the spirit of service among the men present are what truly usher in God’s presence on the weekend.

Sadly, very few “houses of worship” I’ve attended had this same atmosphere. It just goes to show that you can “have church” anywhere that you have a gathering of faith-filled people, but the natural ambience, the prayers of the saints and the right attitude also help a lot.

To find out if there is a Tres Dias community in your area, visit

Monday, March 06, 2006

House Mouse

I'm sorry, but as soon as I saw the star of Fox's new melodramatic med-drama I knew that I wouldn't be watching. For years, I've known Hugh Laurie as the bow-tied father of a furry little CG-animated rodent. I see right through his modern day scruffiness and tussled coif. He's still Mr. Little to me!

Friday, March 03, 2006


Yep, that's me, the bearded one, standing in front of my newly leased White H3. Can I tell you that I love this SUV? So do my wife and daughters. With just 400 miles on it, the H3 is barely broken in. I took advantage of my employee status and got a tremendous deal on a 24-month, 15k mi/year lease. Thank you GMAC!

Now, if anyone else wants to own a HUMMER--or a Buick, Cadillac, GMC or Pontiac for that matter--you know who to contact.

Thank God for the beautiful, sunny 80-degree weather we're having. I'll have my windows down and sunroof wide open this weekend!

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Welcome To the Show

This morning as I lay in bed, I began thinking about how differently my faith expresses itself these days. Whereas I once thought that faith had to be expressed with great fanfare and exuberance, I know see that for what it was…a show.

Let me explain.

I bought into the Pentecostal tradition that said you couldn’t “have church” without tongues, loud singing and other demonstrative acts of faith. Some churches in that tradition took it a step too far and encouraged crazy activities like snake handling. For the record, I never attended a church that had snakes or encouraged this insane behavior. But the churches I attended DID place a heavy emphasis on the demonstration, whether it was speaking and/or singing in tongues, shouting, dancing or wailing. The point was, you couldn’t truly expect to get God’s attention without a showy presentation.

In modern charismatic churches, and even some mainline ones, this show takes on the form of a pop music concert. You have polished musicians, some of them hired for a fee, performing radio-worthy tunes on a stage before a large audience. This is meant to get the people worked up emotionally, so that they’ll walk away with a sense that they experienced something spiritual.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that it is all superficial and emotional. Some of these people, myself among them, were genuine in their show of emotion. I thought that it was the proper way to express my love for God. I mean, what else was I created for if it wasn’t to put on a show for God? Didn’t Jesus warn that the rocks would cry out if I kept silent?

This morning, I actually began considering the practicality of that kind of “worship.” If God were to reveal Himself as say…my wife, would I constantly serenade her and make a big emotional show of my love for her? I mean, she is the person I’m supposed to love most in the world, but I don’t make a big show of it.

My point is, love has to be demonstrated…just not in the flashy ways we often think make the most impact. Haven’t you heard it said, “Sometimes the little things make the biggest difference?” Didn’t Jesus say, “I was thirsty and you gave me drink?” That’s a little thing, isn’t it?

I can demonstrate my love for my wife by cleaning the bathroom. That simple act of service tells her that I care about the things she cares about. Likewise, I can do the same for God. If I take my favorite wool blanket to a homeless man out in the cold, then I’m showing God that I care about the people He cares about. And Jesus even took that a step further. He said that by helping someone in need, I am actually helping Him! Isn’t that a much truer, more practical, more God-centered form of worship?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Subculture Memorobilia

When I was deeply entrenched in the Christian Subculture (aka the Christian Ghetto), I used to wear "The Lord's Gym" T-shirt, drive around with a fish symbol on the tail end of my car and eat lots of Chick-Fil-A. Okay, confession, I ate at Chick-Fil-A just two hours ago. Regardless, I counted these indicators of my deep and undying faith as treasures, virtual witnessing tools, if you will.

That was sometime ago.

Today, on my way back to work from Chick-Fil-A, I saw a bumper sticker that resembled the above JPEG. It made me want to pull the driver over to ask them if they really work in a woodshop for a guy named Bluestein...or to ask if their current employer knew they were working for a carpenter on the side?

I also thought about another one of my favorite bumper sticker declarations of faith:
God is my pilot.
How do those drivers think that makes their passengers feel? As a sharer of the roadways with these people, it unnerves me a bit. What about you?

Do you buy into the bumper sticker theology of these people?

Do you have a Lord's Gym T in your closet????

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Click the link above. It's the new Jack Black movie from the producers of Napoleon Dynamite due out this summer. It looks "stupider" than all get out--IDIOT!--but I'll probably go see it at the dollar cinema.

Friday, February 03, 2006


This week, I found out that one of my newest co-workers attended school with my wife through grade and middle school. They were childhood friends. This led me to peruse my wife’s old yearbooks for incriminating photos with which I could tease my co-worker.

I guess perusing those old photos put me in a retrospective frame of mind.

This morning, I was thinking back to a job I lost 4 years ago. It was an important job with the state emergency management agency. I liked the job and was well-suited for it. The only problem was my immediate supervisor. To many of my colleagues it seemed that this person was just biding his time until retirement when he could collect his state pension and spend his time on personal pursuits, like saltwater fishing. Well, I thumbed my nose at his authority once too often, thinking I was in good graces with the division director and bureau chief above him. That didn’t work out the way I had hoped, and in September of 2001, I found myself looking for another job.

I didn’t miss a beat, employment-wise, as I landed another job in the same field with a different state agency. I did miss a beat in the emotional arena, however. My feelings were hurt and I underachieved at the next job. Heck, I checked out and was again let go just three months later…the week before Thanksgiving.

I was so embarrassed about my situation that I didn’t even tell my wife until AFTER the holiday weekend. During my brief unemployment, I had a few weeks to re-evaluate my priorities. That was a God thing, no doubt about it.

This morning, as I sat in traffic pondering the what-if’s, I realized that losing both state jobs in that three month time span was a blessing in disguise. Had I stayed on that career path, I could have made a name for myself in the field of emergency management. I would have been a high-profile state official during the record-setting hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005. I may have earned promotions and accolades, but at what cost to me and my family…my priorities.

Three jobs later and I’m in a place where I am very happy and my needs are met. I’m on pace to make more money than I would have made with the state even if I had stayed. I have not spent my life on the road or dealing with reporters and angry, displaced citizens. I do not get pages and phone calls in the middle of the night or on holidays, nor do I have to leave my family for weeks at a time to sweat in places like the Everglades.

Funny how much clearer I can see in retrospect God’s hand guiding me along life’s path.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Elucidation #2—Perceiving God

The second idea that I’ve been deconstructing over the last year is my concept of who God is. Who is I AM? Could He possibly be contained in an ark made of wood with gold overlayment? What about in my finite, human mind?

Thomas Merton asserts, “Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about Him.” I think that is true. We presume that God is more in OUR likeness than we are created in His.

I grew up with this perception that God is both angry with us, yet madly in love with us. This split-personality Deity is mostly angry in the Old Testament, acting out His wrath on those whom He chooses. He is mostly loving in the New Testament, offering up His own Son as a sacrifice for us.

As I’ve grown older, and hopefully wiser, I’ve discovered more of God’s loving-kindness in the Hebrew Scriptures, but I still wrestle with the stories of His wrath…say on Sodom and Gemorrah or on less guilty subjects, like Uzzah who, with the best intentions, touched the ark.

One thing that becomes more and more apparent to me is that the Scriptures were written by human beings, with limited understanding, faulty perceptions and irrational superstitions. Regardless of the amount of divine inspiration—which I do believe was the impetus for the recording of Scripture—there was that imperfect filter called the human imagination that surely played a part in the telling of the grand story.

It goes back to Merton’s assertion that our idea of God is rooted in our own personality, perception and imagination. It’s impossible to separate our ideas from our identity. It’s just as impossible for us to think beyond our limited comprehension. So anything we think we know about God is severely limited by our humanness.

God created us with these limitations. He knew that we could never perceive of His vastness. Yet, we often act like we have Him figured out. How arrogant.

It would be like trying to contain the entire Milky Way in the candy bar by the same name. There’s just no possible way to fit the greatness of God into our human-sized containers. So why do we box Him in by our finite understanding? Why do we even try?

I am discovering that God is so much more than He has appeared to be in my mind’s eye. He is not bound by the black and white text on the pages of Scripture, nor by the black and white thinking of my youth.

He is not some Great Mystery to be solved or a Hidden Treasure to be discovered, but the treasures of His love I continue to discover every year. It is that continuous discovery that makes this journey so worthwhile. My goal is no longer to figure everything out or to hem God in by my vain imaginations. I am just happy to be on this journey of discovery.
In letting go of my black and white presumptions about God, I have found much freedom. I am free to accept more of Him, and to accept others who are created in His image even if they don’t look or act like it to me.

If you are holding onto your perception of God as absolute reality, I ask you to consider the possibility of a much larger, greater, more powerful God than you can even fathom. That is the One True God, the I AM. Don’t settle for a facsimile, no matter how reasonable.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Elucidation #1--The Sacrifice

Well, it’s a new year and time to reflect on the year that just ended. I don’t want this to be a cheesy year in review, so I’ll spare you the top ten list. Allow me a few days to ruminate on all that I’ve discovered in my year of church detox and elucidate for you here.

First, I want to talk about the single most central event to Christianity, the sacrificial death of Jesus. As I was thinking on this, I thought of the oft-quoted line of Paul, part one of the “Roman Road” if you will. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Central to my belief system is the fact that Jesus was God in the flesh. As the perfectly divine, yet totally human Savior, He was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world and the only acceptable offering to God, the Father. And since ALL have sinned…and fallen WAY short…we’re covered by this once-for-all offering.

While that may be a given for most, if not all, Christians, the church’s focus on the first part of Paul’s proclamation seems to belittle the second, which is “fallen short of the glory of God” (emphasis mine).

What does that mean, “the glory of God?”

Could it mean that we, as God’s cherished creation, haven’t lived up to our potential? Have we fallen short in areas in which we are totally capable of achieving our best? Living graciously? Being generous, kind, loving, accepting of others, etc.?

I was trying to explain the Passion story to my 4-year-old over Christmas. We celebrated the special day with communion as a family. Of course that raised all kinds of questions about why Jesus had to die. Instead of giving the pat answers I had grown up with, I tried to explain it to her in less gruesome terms with less emphasis on the “sins of the world,” which she wouldn’t understand, anyway.

The most basic way I could explain it is that it takes bread and wine (i.e. food and drink) for us to survive. Jesus told us that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood. That means we need Jesus to survive.

The more I thought about my simplistic explanation, the more profound it seemed. I came full circle back to a discovery I made months ago:

A life given sacrificially is a life gained eternally.

Jesus’ death is more than just some cosmic retribution for the sins of all humans. It is the gateway to life and to reaching the glory of God. It represents the way we humans must survive on things that are sacrificed, like the wheat that produces bread and the grape that produces wine. It also symbolizes how we must live selflessly in service to others.

Could it be that the glory of God meant to shine through us burns much brighter when we actually live this way?

Then why do we get so hung up on the sin issue, instead of letting God’s glory shine through?