Wednesday, December 2, 2009

nick saban and other flaws

Last night I had a sad kind of revelation.
Neal and I were in bed with the TV on. Some crazy SEC game was in its final quarter. I checked the teams. Auburn was not one of them. So, I excused myself from having to feign concern over the game and I picked up my book.
In between the Did-You-See-That’s and Hold-On-Babe-Watch-This-Replay’s, I began to pick up on a pattern. It’s the pattern I’ll call Pretending to Care. I thought back to the most recent time this pattern really demonstrated itself.
 Let’s take, for example, last Friday’s game.  Auburn was playing an SEC team.  Not just any team—it was their all-time death-to-your-mother rival, Alabama. My husband does not curse, but his game T-shirts for Auburn-Alabama games do.  It goes deep, this rivalry. And way back.
 I’ve come to accept that it’s not really in my DNA to grasp the significance of SEC rivalries.
So, during this all-important game, I did several things. I went to the book store with my mother during the first and second quarters. I checked the score and fixed lunch during half-time. During the third quarter, my brother and I sat on the porch and talked about his plans after graduation.
And all the while there was this yelling. Whoops and hollers. Stomps and fists in the air. Those grunts and noises, they remind me to check in on the game. So I did. When I realized it was fourth quarter, I told my brother I had to go in to watch the next 23 painstaking minutes with my husband. He had no fellow fan with him, so I had to offer up what little care I had.
It was a good game. And I really did pay attention. I said things like,
Was that offsides? So, what, 5 yards?
Is that the special teams coach?
You really hate Nick Saban, don’t you.
We need a turnover real bad.  (my personal favorite)
An outsider, especially one from my brand of hippie California, would have been impressed. Or at least mildly fooled.
I’d love to confess that my football participation during that Auburn-Alabama game was the exception. That usually, I sit through the whole game, engaged and on the edge of my seat.
That I don’t fold the laundry,
 or blog, or clip my toenails,
or do the dishes or find any reason at all more important than the game.
At one point during our marriage, I thought I might change. I began to feel the tingling sensation of real football emotion. It was as if the neurons to the football lobe in my brain had been asleep all my life and the first signs of life began pulsing through. This possibility really excited me. I imagined myself, a Real Football Wife. Jersey on, kids dressed in orange and blue (although that does happen, anyway. Refer to the above mentioned Pretending to Care). I would faithfully sit next to my husband, light beer and reduced-fat Cheeze-Its in hand, with real appropriate body language corresponding with every Auburn success and failure. As a Real Football Wife, I’d even say things before my husband would. Educated, football-y things.
The neurons have since fallen back asleep. They don’t surge with life when the game is on, although they do host a sense of nostalgia.
Back in August, I made it my goal to watch every 1st half of every Auburn game with Neal. I thought it might jumpstart some emotion, or at least not stress my marriage. Sadly, I’ve since diverted back to my default of Pretending to Care. The feminists among you (my hairdresser is one, I think all hairdressers are) may chide me for even trying to Pretend to Care. That a Real Football Wife is just another piece of machismo propaganda churned out by some good ol’ boys club.
For me, it’s not. I have no reason to conform to something I’m not, at least when it comes to anything-ESPN. There’s just a draw…an orbit-like pull when I pause and witness my husband’s passion for the game. It’s his childhood and his dreams, his family’s history and culture.
This draw keeps me setting goals, like watching the first half or saying something not-stupid. It keeps alive the ever-elusive fantasy of becoming a Real Football Wife. It keeps me thinking, at 10:49 on Saturday nights that I should try again next football season.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

la mujer en el apron verde

Tienes identificacion, por favor?
Idalys handed me a card, and it wasn’t a license or a passport. I tried to disguise my excitement as I handled her proof of permission to legally reside in the U.S.  I thought it was a euphemism, or some kind of legend that had evolved over the ages. But last Saturday I came to realize that green cards really are green.
Idalys was from Tijuana, Mexico, the card told me. I quickly punched in her numbers into the computer, confirmed that she was indeed registered for her free Thanksgiving meal, and sent her to the lady in the green apron.
Except that I don’t know the word for apron in Spanish.
Idalys was one of thousands of homeless or lower-income families in the Tampa Bay area that would receive food from Metropolitan Ministries this holiday season. And I was one of hundreds of volunteers who would help the well-oiled machine of goodwill to do its thing.
Marcel told me he hadn’t eaten in two days.
Jeanette, with her platinum blonde hair and well-groomed nails, asked me how old I thought she was. I skirted around the question with flattering clichés.
61. Don’t I look good for 61?
I got to hear all about Jeanette’s weight-loss journey, philosophies on diet and exercise, and how to take a good license photo.
Louis, a tall, athletic-looking father, approached my station with his children and wife in tow. He handed me his registration form and his ID. I punched in Louis’ number and asked him whether they wanted chicken or turkey. I punched in Laquanda’s number and tried to make eye contact with her. With eyes diverted, she may have eked out a smile from the left corner of her mouth.  Still not sure about that.  I punched in the numbers of the two boys, asked their grades and we talked about 3rd grade.
You’ve got FCAT coming up. You reading, right?
Yes, ma’am, Javonne politely replied.
And then that was it. Just four numbers. Louis, Laquanda, Javonne, Demetrius.  But what about the stroller? And the little girl on Laquanda’s hip?
Louis, are those your children also?
Yes, ma’am.
Louis explained to me that he couldn’t find their socials when he was registering his family for the Thanksgiving meal. So, without social security cards, they don’t count. I excused myself for a minute (masking one’s shock became a much-needed skill) to check with the volunteer supervisor. Was this truly the case?
I had a hard time when I returned to my station, wanting to apologize to Louis, but not wanting to paint this generous ministry as Uncle Scrooge. I thought back to my days teaching in the ghetto. My training with Ruby Payne told me how hard it was for those in the culture of poverty to adhere to middle-class codes of paper.
Louis graciously smiled and assured me he understood when I confirmed that we “couldn’t do anything” without his daughters’ socials. And then I sent Louis with his two official and two unofficial children on their way to the lady in the green apron.
Tabitha’s curly bobbed head barely made it over the work space of my station. When I looked up from the computer to greet her, I noticed a few tears pooled in the corners of her eyes. I set down her registration sheet and ID, and walked around the station to be near her. Nothing like comforting someone when there’s a splintery piece of plywood between the two of you.
I just get emotional about these things, Tabitha told me.
Well, do you need to talk to someone? Should I get someone for you?
No, I’m fine, she protested.
Tabitha blubbered something about a lady she just met in line that had battled cancer and was in remission. Something about her new friend’s courage. And to be honest, I was a little puzzled. I couldn’t figure exactly why Tabitha was emotional. I began punching in her numbers, having determined that she was Okay. Right about when I was supposed to usher her towards the green apron, Lady in Remission passed my station. Her frail frame was draped with a floral print dress.  Another flower laden scarf was piled atop her head. She seemed to move in slow motion, but any discomfort was disguised by a flowy-like gracefulness.  She embraced Tabitha as if they were childhood friends and thanked her for her help.
And off went the two. Both in need. And yet not too consumed with self to be unmoved by the other.
I just get emotional about these things.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

13 Reasons to Run a Half-Marathon

1. i'm 27

2. i'm not pregnant (although the rumor was floating through my neighborhood. it's always fun to be asked. if i had some cajones, i'd really mess with the are-you-pregnant Askers. but i don't.)

3. i've never done anything really physically competitive. i danced in high school, but never went en pointe. i trained with cross country over the summer, but didn't join for the season. never played team sports. my only trophy was for placing 3rd in a public speaking contest. The Giving Tree. it would have moved you too.

4. the race is local, the gasparilla half marathon, so there's no extra cost with gas or hotel.

5. i've been coveting a slick pair of sports sunglasses and a digital sports watch. i'd look for real then.

6. i'm going to use this race as an excuse to raise money for blood:water mission, an organization that fights AIDS in Africa by building wells. 6 of my friends have joined me.

7. rebecca from The Biggest Loser told me I could do it.

8. ripped calves and huge quads are sexy.

9. considering running in a skort. what do you think?

10. i want one of those super proud pics of me at the finish line holding my amazing son, Carter. he plans to run races with me later, he's told me in more or less words.

11. a full marathon scares me. really scares me.

12. i like the runner's sock tan. especially when i wear flip-flops.

13. if i had a bucket list, running a half marathon would be on it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

another tree-killing, time-wasting diversion in my mailbox

Dear J.Crew,

Please stop sending me your catalogs and incessant emails. I know there's a button for that somewhere, to make this request official and maybe I'll find it someday.

The thing is, I really don't need you sitting in my mail box, every 4 weeks or so, with some tantalizingly expensive sex-in-the-city-esque coat, worn by some pale twig of a female, begging to be purchased. If you knew where I live, you'd understand that there are 8.925 hours, total, in this part of Florida that would merit such a thick piece of cloth. If we were to break it down that's $112 $147 an hour (of course I included the boots and clutch). The second thing you should know is that I really cannot afford to rent a coat, albeit every Jackie-O-fanatasy-fulfilled, for $147 an hour. I don't walk the city streets to hop on the Metro, and I certainly don't hang out with Marco and his alpaca in the Andes (where your last shoot took place). So, of those 8.925 cold hours in Tampa, I'm indoors for most of them.

Another thing you should know is that you're really overestimating how trendy I am. While I covet your coats, you must be forgetting that I'm just a mom in the suburbs, working part-time as a teacher. I can't attempt to match the fashion templates your stringy-haired models demonstrate. Satin shorts with tights, high heels, and a boyfriend blazer? Not feeling that on the neighborhood playground with my toddler. I'll cut you some slack, though, because I'm pretty sure my closet will contain some of Jenna's a couple years. That's how I rock it.

Until I find that elusive stop-marketing-me button, I'll have to tread the line between harmless ogling and idolatrous coveting. But what do you care, J.Crew? You and Marco in the Andes, and Jenna with her picks, and Twiggy--you'll keep doing what you do. We'll keep up the pretense--that care you about my style and that I can afford yours. It's kinda fun.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ode to my Laptop

Just an HP
Before I knew Macs were cool
Bought you for 1000+
Forgot to send the rebate in

Took you to Mexico
and San Antonio
And you entertained my 18 month old
on the nightmare-flight to San Diego

You graduated me from pen and paper
to appointments color-coded
by Outlook
You lured me from my spiral notebook
to posting my thoughts in the blogosphere
You seduced me to Facebook
where I got in touch with old friends
and old now-I-know-why-we're-not-friends

Your fateful end was the meeting of
my three loves:
my son, my coffee, my laptop
It's gonna be hard to move on
Unless I get a flaming pink Mac
So, here's to you
and all the words we've shared

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Me and My Sort-of-Trainer

So, about a month ago, I dropped Carter off at the kiddo’s playroom in the gym and noticed a steady stream of mommies walking to some class. I approached Chrissy, my barometer of health and fitness, and asked her if I really did need to do “Athletic Conditioning.” She and my conscience said yes. I remembered seeing those people, those Athletic Conditioners, while contentedly running on the treadmill. They looked sick and pale and nauseous. And I was about to join their ranks.

Enter Melanie, the trainer whose name has been changed in case I and my blog get famous. Little tiny brunette who just did a spinning class. Because Athletic Conditioning isn’t enough of a workout. As the music brought me back to my clubbing days (those two), Melanie promised us we’d taste our breakfast. So started my relationship with my sort-of-trainer.

The first session I remained somewhat anonymous. Except for my friend Elizabeth, no one knew the new girl who was screwing up her biometrics. The next 4 days, I should have gotten a UTI—I hardly peed cause it hurt so bad to sit down on the toilet. Second session, Melanie decided to learn my name. Awesome. I kind of, sort of, wanted her approval. And it really felt like she cared when she screamed at me to finish my lunges. Third week, I skipped. And hoped Melanie wouldn’t notice.

And then I realized that sometime along this journey I’d reverted to first grade. Mrs. Miller was my first grade teacher (omigosh, she even looked like Melanie), and I so desperately wanted Mrs. Miller’s approval. I don’t think I’m desperate in wanting my trainer’s approval (you see that? I went from being in a class of 20 to having a personal trainer). I just know that I think about her opinion way too much.

Like when we were doing some tricep thing. When she was on the other side of the room, I slacked off. Or while sprinting. When she was watching me, you can bet I took it up a notch to 6.4. And then today. Didn’t have class, but I stopped by for a quick upper body workout. While on the treadmill for my warmup, Melanie walked by.

“Hey, April—Come on, run it out!!”

I hate the treadmill. I watch those little digital seconds go by and don’t waste a second more than I’ve promised the machine when I’m done. But Melanie just walked by. And I had only 10 seconds left. So, I clocked another minute till she was out of sight.

Sick, maybe. I’ll figure it out.

Friday, October 16, 2009

You Won't Get a Thank-You Card

Tonight I noticed for the thousandth time my scar. The scar from the incision that was made in my lower abdomen when the doctor drew forth my distressed baby. The scar that represented dashed hopes for a natural birth experience. The scar that reminds me of the painful and slow recovery. And I wondered,

Will Carter ever know?

Know what it all cost me—the discomfort of pregnancy, the crazed, sleepless nights, the inconvenience of nursing, the pain of recovering from surgery. I imagined 20 years from now, when Carter and I could converse as adults. I wondered what exactly I might want from him. Does he need to understand the price my body paid for his entering this world? Would I desire for him to acknowledge what I did?

Do I need a thank-you card from my son?

The answer, obviously, is no. But as parents, making sacrifices for our children, there is something we do want. I don’t need Carter to thank me when I change his diapers. I won’t need him to calculate how much he’s cost us financially, and then reimburse us when he’s older. And I certainly don’t want him to enter into a relationship dynamic built on guilt or fear in response to what we’ve done for him.
But I do want relationship. I want a heart of gratefulness and joy and delight. As he grows older and is able to understand how deep our love runs, I want a response of reciprocated love and appreciation. What I ultimately want is that my son would understand my heart for him and that intimate relationship would result.

And here’s where I think a lot of Christians get tripped up.

Instead of recognizing God’s sacrifice for us, and appropriately responding with love and service, we treat the Christian life as if it were some kind of social contract. Instead of loving God the way a son loves his birth mother, we treat the church as if she were an event in which we participate.

There’s a massive difference between the expectations I have of my son and of the couple whose wedding I attended a few years back. With my son, there’s no possible way to calculate what I’ve done for him. The former and future sacrifices are immeasurable—no system exists that could translate our love into monetary values. With a wedding, though, you can calculate just how much you spend to participate. There’s the money you spend on gas, the bridal shower present, the wedding present, the hotel, and the meals for the weekend. When I attend an event out of obligation or due to some social code, you can bet I’m able to measure just how much it cost me.

The typical experience goes something like this:

You’re invited to the event, you show up, and plunk down what you were told to bring. You smile through the pleasantries and maybe shake the coordinator’s hand on the way out. You pat yourself on the back for your whole-hearted participation, and you’re satisfied for having been part of something successful. After the event, whether you acknowledge it or not, a silent waiting game transpires. Because you know how much your contribution cost you, there’s an unspoken expectation. You deserve to be appreciated and your participation, acknowledged.

You deserve a thank-you card.

There’s a huge danger in superimposing this thank-you card mentality onto kingdom-living. What we do in response to God’s outpouring of love for us can never, nor should it ever be quantified. First, our service and love could never come close to what God has done for us. Second, if our relationship with God is just that—relationship—then we won’t consider keeping track of our good efforts and deeds. True relationship takes on an immeasurable interchange of love and service. Paul told us that love doesn’t keep records.

Acknowledgment, appreciation and even praise are all healthy and fitting for believers. We need to notice each other’s service and celebrate. These practices are markers of a healthy community. But some soul-searching is absolutely critical if we’re going to partner with God for the long haul. The truth is, as you labor for God’s-Kingdom-Come, you’ll be disappointed. Your fellow laborers won’t see everything you do. Sometimes they’ll be too busy to notice, and sometimes they’ll be too tired to care. Even your closest allies will miss some opportunities to rejoice and grieve with you. The adrenaline that once sustained you will wear thin and you’ll be left with the truth of your motives.

If you approach life-with-God as a son seeks to please his mother, then you’ll press through the discouragement, drawing on his Presence and promises. If your approach mirrors the social event mentality, then you’ll throw in the towel. The irony is that when someone walks away from the church because of hurt, she leaves the very source God ordained for her healing.

The scar I have bears witness to a sacrifice that brought forth an indescribable wellspring of life. I could never have imagined the joy I experience everyday due to my son. I imagine that God feels the same.

What a shame it would be to trivialize relationship with God into something that operates by superficial social codes.

Into something that expects a thank-you card.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Goodbye, Mr. Hollis

Saturday afternoon, at a quarter till 2, an old teacher friend and I rendezvoused in a flooded parking lot off of N Howard. We trudged through puddles, resigned ourselves to the now-pending dry cleaning bills, and joined a stream of ebony faces headed toward a funeral parlor. As we found our seats at the back of the chapel, I scanned the faces for the few I hoped to recognize. Our former assistant principal and two secretaries were seated a few rows ahead of us. It was a reunion of sorts, a sober occasion. We had gathered to pay our respects to Mr. Hollis, the head custodian at Lockhart Elementary.

Somewhere between the processional and the gospel rendition of Our King Lives, I wondered why exactly I had come. It wasn’t that I was one of three non-black attendees. I just felt uncomfortable not having known Mr. Hollis personally, while there were so many surrounding me who were painfully mourning his passing. I almost felt disrespectful being in the presence of his mourners without participating in their deep sorrow.

After a few reflections by people who knew him better, I began to realize why I had come.

I thought about what Jesus said to his disciples, the ones who were vying for the highest positions in his coming kingdom. He told them that his kingdom wouldn’t be structured like the kingdoms of men. He told them that if they wanted to be the greatest they had to become the servant of all. That if Jesus, their Master, had come to serve then surely their lives must reflect his pattern.

Jesus’ teaching released me to feel at ease in that chapel. I, a mere teacher whose room was unlocked and whose boxes were carted by Mr. Hollis could share the same space with his grieving widow. Although the only commonality our lives shared was our workplace, my spirit had taken note of this man.

You see, in every mental image I have of Mr. Hollis he is smiling. He’s pushing that huge gray bucket on wheels, with a broom and a mop sticking out, and he’s smiling. There was a humility he had mastered, and it wasn’t due to his life’s circumstances or position. His attitude was like Christ’s—joyful in service and content in all things. Within the world’s system, Mr. Hollis may not have ranked towards the top. But in the coming kingdom, I expect him to be seated close to the King, elbowing the likes of the apostles, martyrs and other unsuspecting servants.

It’s rare to encounter selflessness in this world of me-first. It’s rare to come across a true servant of all. But when you do, it’s only natural to break from life’s routine to stop and reflect on the witness of one of the greats. The world may not recognize him, but my God has.

Until then, Mr. Hollis.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Green on my Mind

Maybe it was the record-setting, highest to-date electric bill we received for the month of July.

Maybe it was the recent visit to the holy mecca of Greener Than Thou, my home state of California.

Whatever the inspiration, I've got green on my mind.

Don't give me too much credit, here. I'm nowhere close to granola-crunching, vegan-cooking, compost-smelling, bra-burning environmentalism.

Yes, I own those canvas bags. And hardly remember to bring them when I shop. (I think Publix has its own Green-Guilt Campaign-- you know what I mean. You're almost out the door, silently swearing you'll remember the bags "next time," when they get you with, "plastic ok, maam?" and then they wait for your answer.)

Anyway, while solar panals and that new Toyota Prius are out of our budget, I'm committing to take some baby steps. And, hopefully, these baby steps will lend themselves to even more.

While we've been replacing burned out lightbulbs with CFLs, I went ahead and replaced all the (8) lightbulbs in our bathrooom with CFLs, since we use it daily. I attempted to redo the weatherstripping on our front door while Neal was out of town (surprise! it's what you've always wanted!). I bought all the wrong crap and now have to emit carbon gases the whole way back to Lowes. So, my efforts are 1 for 1.

I'm also sorting through the black hole of chemicals called Under-the-Sink. I figure I can condense our cleaning supplies down to half the current space and use the remaining half for a recycling bin!! The whole trek to the garage, albeit short, has prevented many an aluminum can from its proper destination. I can't even describe how happy I am about this Under-the-Sink bin. My aunt, who haunts Martha Stewart's dreams, has the ultimate kitchen. She kept true to her San Diegan identity and used recycled broken windshields for her counter tops instead of earth-gutting granite, and has not one, but two hideaway pull-out recycling bins. I suffer a little envy...

While, again, we can't afford this kind of beautiful and extensive shout-out to God's green earth, I can throw (I mean, recycle) away some unused bottles to make room for a more accessible recycle bin.

I figure that the most likely way I'll succeed with long-term ecofriendly habits will be by taking little steps-- accepting that I can't do every green thing, while creatively looking for things I can.

One carbon step back, two smaller carbon footprints forward...

Friday, August 7, 2009

California Withdrawals

I woke up this morning, curtains drawn, windows closed and the only sound coming from the AC unit. Peeked out the window to a white-ish sky, saturated with humidity.


I hoped it wouldn’t happen. I prayed it wouldn’t happen. I tried to mentally psyche myself up so it wouldn’t happen.

But after seven mornings of waking up to cool ocean breezes running through open windows, the sound of water running down a fountain and a gorgeous view of a California canyon, I couldn’t help myself.

I’m in a Florida funk.

I can’t pinpoint what it is that I love about California. To an outsider (my husband), the hills are always dusty brown, the flowers’ colors are muted, and the traffic sucks. For me, on this sojourner’s journey on earth, it’s the closest thing I’ll get to home.

Trader Joe’s, farmer’s markets, hills and mountains, “the 5,” the PCH, the air, the desert flowers, the Mediterranean houses, the eco-awareness, the love of nature, the runners, the cold cold ocean water, the bonfires on the beach, the grandpa surfers, the food, the sunsets over the water, the access to culture, the love of life. It’s all there and it all speaks to me.

I met Jesus in California. When I was little, I used to hike to a special spot near a stream to dip my feet and pray. When I was older, my Biblestudy camped out under the stars on a beach near Malibu. The ocean, the sand, the boulders and cliffs, the trails, the trees, the streams—I’ve met God in those places. Words were whispered, scripture came to life, and a little girl’s spirit learned to dance.

Before every trip back to California, I psyche myself up by focusing on several truths: my family’s here in Florida, my husband and I share ministry here in Florida, we have a nice house, friends, and purpose here. God has richly blessed us and we know this is where he wants us.

I tried, really, I did. To practice contentment. And I was happy to be simply visiting the whole time we were there.

But this morning hit with a vengeance. Like a drunkard’s hangover.

I’ll get out of my funk. I’ll see my friends tomorrow, and I’ll go to church on Sunday, and I’ll see my parents this month and will probably even visit the beach. The humidity will dissipate. I’ll go kayaking and will appreciate the brackish waters and the mangrove trees. I’ll rediscover my joy here, and will thank God for his providence.

For now, though, much should not be expected of me. The afternoon belongs to pouting and cold coffee. California’s a hard one to get over.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

it's been a while since I've had one of these mornings

I put Carter down around 11—he’d been up since 5:30, so I figured an early naptime would work.

He played for a while and then started calling, “Mommy! Mommy!” I called his name back, but he wouldn’t stop.

So, I went into his room and he’s standing in the corner of his crib, pointing at the black poop that was smeared all over his bedsheets.

After his shower, load of laundry and change of sheets, I put him back into his crib.

Take 2.

I’m in the garage, looking for some random tools and I hear Carter crying. Just for a little bit.

He’s okay, I thought. The cry even sounds a bit fake.

Then, I hear him, a little louder than he should be. Knocking on his bedroom door, yelling, “Hello!!”

I go to his room and sure enough, he’s right behind the door.

I screamed.

He cried.

My mind is spinning—Carter can now climb out of his crib. What am I going to do when I need a shower? Or, when he needs “quiet time” with his books? I guess I have to bolt all of his furniture to the wall now—there’s no guaranteeing I can supervise him in the room all the time now.


I feed him lunch because we’ve missed the early nap window. Change his diaper, wrap his hand up (another story) and wonder how he’s gonna nap.

I remember this great contraption that we used a lot when Carter was younger--Baby Jail. So, I find it, put it up in his room, drop him in and wait to see if he can figure this thing out. He stays put, but commences to cry. Loudly.

Take 3.

The crying doesn’t stop as soon as I thought it would. I go back to his room, pick him up, and rock him. He refuses to let sleep overtake him.

So, only 2 ½ hours after my first attempt to get Carter to sleep, I’m hunched in the corner of Baby Jail, knees held to my chest, patting my son’s back as he fights to fall asleep on the carpet.

Take 3 worked.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Hidden Jesus

There is a Jesus and a Gospel that is hidden from most of us because most of us cannot see Him through the lens of our life-experience.

We read about the poor inheriting the earth, faith like a mustard seed, and the little children dancing about Jesus’ feet and sentiments as sweet as Precious Moments images are stirred.

It’s all very sweet and endearing and we chalk Jesus and his life’s message up to a Christian version of Ghandi or Oprah. His message was just another version of the Golden Rule.

The Hidden Jesus awaits our discovery.

He is there, loudly denouncing unrepentant cities in Matthew 11.

He is there, aggravating the established religious authorities in Matthew 12.

He is there, passing out invitations to the Royal Banquet to street rats and prostitutes in Matthew 22.

He called their bluff.

He said only a few would follow.

He offended.

He crossed racial, socio-economic and cultural boundaries.

He healed a leper by touching him.

He gave kingdom-rights to the poor.

He didn’t come home for dinner.

He submitted to death.

He overcame death.

The Hidden Jesus awaits our discovery.

And it’s only when we obey the few truths we’ve heard, that He will show himself to us. That true revelation will be ours. That a knock on the door of our hearts will be heard and a Guest will present himself for dinner.

You can read and read and read.

But until you obey with what you know, Hidden Jesus will remain.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Under Babylon’s sky we unite
Come together
Come together
And the fellowship we share,
a fragile dichotomy
Of self-worship and the promotion of others’ self-worship

Under Babylon’s sky we unite
Philosophers, priests, pleasure seekers, pagans,
We come together
As powerful and mighty and godless
We raise our fists to the sky
And sing our songs of independence
And praise the paths we’ve carved for ourselves
So different, yet so the same

Under Babylon’s sky we unite
We’re fierce and we never change
From Cain, our first son,
To Descartes, Sinatra, and Nietzsche
No God, I’m God, Dead God
The chant echoes from the deepest parts of man
Through the ages,
Through the races, creeds and nations

Under Babylon’s sky we unite
Her son has blinded
Her heat has deluded
Her sand has scraped the pupils dull

Mercy would be a broken tower
Mercy would be divided fellowship
Mercy would be different languages

Pray for Mercy under Babylon’s sky

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Crazy Love

I've been reading this book, Crazy Love, by Francis Chan.

And when I say reading, I don't mean pick it up before bed and leisurely read a chapter.

I mean, brace myself for convicting truth, read a page or two, put it down, and pray. Sometimes weep. Sometimes repent.

The book's message has arrested my thought life. It's become a force that causes me to wrestle with self-assessment like never before.

I've invited the Holy Spirit to search me, my lifestyle and my worldview. To make me see ministry and discipleship a little more objectively. A little more through the lens of scripture.

I may blog later on specific issues the book has raised, but for now I invite you to join me!

If you're looking for some junk-food fiction (which I do read), this isn't it. If you're looking for a catalyst for your relationship with God, this may be it.

Let me know if you get it! I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Styrofoam for Jesus

My husband is a pastor.

My husband is more outgoing than I am.

My husband likes people.

This isn’t to say that I don’t.

This is to say that we have people over for dinner.

A lot.

Tonight, it’s our new neighbors from across the street.

With women and hosting, I’ve found there tends to be a high standard we hold ourselves to. And, really, it’s just us women who hold us women to that standard. Men don’t care because men don’t even notice.

This is the standard, for dinner, that I’m talking about:

Clean floors, clean counters, no dishes in sink (because we all do them immediately after each meal, right?). Toys are in appropriate bins and there’s no pee on the guest toilet rim (because we clean that bathroom religiously, right?). Just in case the Woman who’s coming over wants to see how the Child’s room is painted, that’s tidied up, too.

Well, out of need to preserve my love of people over for dinner, I’ve modified that standard:

The house is decently cleaned, I don’t care about Carter’s room, and dinner is simple. I mean, simple. Neal grills chicken, I throw some frozen potato wedges in the oven and we might have a salad. If I’m up to it.

We no longer eat on real plates.

It’s Styrofoam all the way, baby. And those red Solo cups, complete with a Sharpie for labeling names to appease the compulsive teacher in me.

This is how I preserve my sanity. This is how I lower the standard so I can focus on the people we’re hosting and the connections being made.

Some Martha Stewarts out there might be able to do both. Perfection and genuine connections over dinner.

Well, that’s not me. I have a feeling, though, it might not be a lot us Women either.

What if we lowered the standard, risking silent judgment, for the sake of having dinners more often? What if we truly focused on the people coming over, and less on our ability to impress?

What if we did Styrofoam for Jesus?


Over the past couple weeks, I’ve sensed God calling me to Himself. It’s not that I’m in a place of rebellion, or even apathy.

There’s just more to be had.

More of God.

More of myself to give to God.

What does this look like for me? It’s more regular time, away, by myself, with the intent to focus on God.

It’s reading a psalm

and then praying it aloud to God.

It’s putting on a quiet worship song and getting on my face.

It’s taking in the lyrics.

It’s sometimes singing them.

It’s talking to God about all the stuff weighing down my heart.

And, then the best part…

I get quiet.

By this time, I’ve emptied myself of petitions and requests and please-do-this’s.

Most of the time, when we’re “done praying,” we’re done. We get up, move on, and check God-time off our list.

I’ve been stopping, though. And waiting. And staying beyond that point.

It has become the sweetest part.

The most saturated with the Spirit.

It’s in the quietness that I sense Him most.

That I remember who he is.

That he silently assures me of who I am before him.

It’s in the quietness that I regain my strength, my vision, my focus.

My heart is renewed and energized and

At peace.

Once again.

God told his people through the prophet Isaiah,

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength

And I’m discovering its truth all over again.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Last week, one of my dear friends had her second baby. As we sat in the hospital room, passing him around, she commented, “I think he looks so much like his sister!”

(I don’t have this skill. God forgot to give it to me. All babies, including my own, look like squooshed, little red prunes. I can’t see my nose, or my husband’s chin, or great-grandpa’s forehead. I missed that boat.)


It amazes me how universal the drive is to compare these hours-old, little human beings to who they’re related to. And no wonder! God was the first. He said, to Himself, “Let us create man in our image!” Let’s make something that looks like us, and then search for the similarities! That was God’s idea of fun.

The point is, we, including God, like this idea of others reflecting back to us who we are. God’s purpose for us is to look and act more and more like his son. And we still celebrate when a mannerism of our children, or a physical characteristic, represents someone we love. Especially if that someone is us.

I think this is why we like beautiful people. On TV, in magazines, at church. We gravitate towards beautiful people and that’s a fact. Jessica Simpson has almost 500,000 people following her on Twitter. Do you think it’s because they’re awaiting some profound comment about the world’s events? She’s beautiful, so we pay attention.

We use others as our mirrors.

If I can look around me and see there are successful, smart, attractive and talented people (and there are—I love you all!), then I can deduce the same about myself. It’s an unspoken rule of this world. Have you ever noticed how people marry in the same league? Or, when they don’t, we notice? Think about high school. And all of those cliques. There were unspoken (sadly, sometimes spoken) rules about who did and did not belong.

Because those mirrors are important. They have to stay in tact for the security of all.

While that’s all normal for the world, there’s a new normal for the Christ-follower. Our mirror, our answer to who we are, should be Jesus. When I stand before Jesus, he answers all of those questions—Am I beautiful? Am I valued? Do I have something to offer? What is my worth? He affirms me, from the deepest places of my soul, and sets himself as the ultimate Mirror.

With this new standard of comparison, I’m set free. Set free to love, to serve, to spend time with, to minister to, to accept friendship from anyone. The insecurities that came with my deepest questions have been settled.

A long time ago, a man was on a mission from God to choose Israel’s next king from a group of brothers. He gravitated toward the beautiful son, and God spoke loud and clear:

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.

Let’s start comparing ourselves to Jesus. To his image, to his character, to his success, to his beauty. As Jesus becomes our Mirror, we might even hear the Father boast of how much we look like Him.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Windows Down

It’s a small minority, the lot of us. And you’d never notice us until you’re one of us. Until you’re driving around, windows down, in the middle of a hot Florida day. That’s when this inconspicuous group of drivers becomes an unspoken fellowship of human beings.

I joined the ranks of these drivers today. Neal and I switched cars. His car is out of freon, or so we think, and we just haven’t gotten around to dropping the car off at Southern Comfort.

There’s a story behind every car with windows down. Because in this weather, no one does it by choice. Nice cars—are you too busy, like us, to fix your AC? Old cars—was the AC the first to go? Trucks—are you just reminiscent of when you had a Jeep Wrangler? Compact cars—are you fantasizing that this is your convertible?

Along with the stories, there’s the shared experiences. The salty perspiration dripping down your lower back, trapped between your shirt and the car seat. The sweat creeping down your thighs, increasing exponentially due to the heat held captive by your seat. If you’re a woman, your hair is now in a ponytail, no matter how much time you spent styling it before you left the house. If you’re a guy, you’re asking yourself if you remembered deodorant before you left the house. If you’re a guy, it probably doesn’t matter if you remembered deodorant before you left the house.

And then there’s the complicated issue of Windows-Down-Etiquette. If you’re listening to the radio when you stop at an intersection, should you turn it down? Is there a level that’s acceptable for your music to be shared on the open air ways? Do you even want everyone to know what you’re listening to, or do you resort to middle school insecurities, and fear that you’ll be judged? What about eye-contact at a stoplight?

This morning, at Countryway and Linebaugh, I was stopped in the left turn lane. Joe Redneck happened to be on my immediate right, another Windows-Down-Driver. Joe whistled. Maybe to a tune in his head, I reasoned. Then, Joe blasted some country song about red lipstick and heels and some other indiscriminate redneck lyrics. I stared straight ahead, doing my best to look deep in thought, distracted by important things in my head. Or, important things down the road. I didn’t like being so conspicuous to a perfect stranger, only 7 feet away.

It’s really all a game, you know. This idea of inconspicuousness. And busy-ness. And I-don’t-notice-you-ness.

It’s only when you join the ranks of Windows-Down-Drivers that you’re forced to come to terms with the reality that Others Exist.

When the light turned green, I peeled off, grateful for the blast of humid air. Grateful to be returning to the land of anonymity.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

White Jesus

For your enjoyment, a painting of White Jesus by none other than Hitler himself.

A week before Easter, Carter’s grandma gave him one of those chunky you-can’t-rip-the-pages-out children’s books. It’s title, The Story of Easter.

The text is simple and starts with a shout-out to spring so the obligatory Easter Animals can have their 15 minutes. Nothing like supporting the syncretism of pagan and Christian holidays.

Then the text introduces our Hero, White Jesus.

The words are accurate—Jesus loved children, and Moms and Dads, too. (Because who else would be reading this story to you? God forbid it be a foster parent or aunt or a compassionate social worker.)

It’s the illustrations that aren’t so faithful to history. Jesus has light brown hair and a complexion so fair you want to jump through the pages and slather SPF 100 all over him.

White Jesus then appears on the next page in what seems to be Palm Sunday. A group of blonde children surround him and his donkey, while he appears placid and so very peaceful.

The next page moves our plot along.

Some bad men didn’t like Jesus and put him on a cross to die.

There’s no supporting illustration. After all, a crucifixion scene might not be appropriate for a 16 month old. However, our beloved artist managed to squeeze in a few Nicole Kidman look-alikes, huddling together with mouths turned downwards—we might interpret the expression as sad. Let’s not get carried away with emotion here; they’re just sad.

Peacefully sad.

A couple iridescent angels later, and we’re back to modern times. The text explains that what White Jesus did is why we go to church on Easter Sunday and sing songs.

Theologically, sound.

Artistically, not.

The children in this illustration belong to the fairest of the fair—they’re red-headed with freckles and glowing, transparent skin. Oh, and there’s a yellow brick road they’re skipping on as they make their way to a white church with a steeple.

It’s endearing, really.

I’d love to tell you that this book was published during the Renaissance, when European artists rendered their historically inaccurate versions of what Jesus looked like. Or that some uninformed well-intentioned Christian painted the pictures from her little house on the prairie, before the fact that Jesus was Middle Eastern was common knowledge.

Can’t do that.

The publication date was 1997.

I considered writing the artist a letter. However, I felt that if I did, I’d have to be tactful and restrained with my questions. Instead, I’ve chosen do nothing to solve the problem, but will use the cathartic outlet of blogging to address my issues:

Dearest Artist who will never read this post:

Are you so insecure in God’s love for you that you have to make Him look like you? Is it not enough that those who’ve hailed from European ancestry have had social, economic and political advantages for centuries? Does it threaten you that Historical Jesus probably looked more like the Iraqi on the news than your next door neighbor?

It shouldn’t. And if it does, at least feign compliance for the sake of political correctness.

After all, there was another artist who insisted on changing Jesus’ ethnicity. History has since judged him.

Let’s not get caught in his company.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Little Reflection on Confrontation

“Remember, there’s valet parking.”

This was the last exhortation from my husband before I left this morning for our church’s women’s brunch. Neal was part of the planning process and wanted to make sure I took advantage of all the country club promised in our package.

So, I pulled up in our Honda, stocked to the brim with boxes of copy paper, old mailers and Monster drinks, and asked the guy in the white polo if there was valet parking.

He said no.

But he’d pick me up in his golf cart after I parked, if I wanted.

I should be so thankful.

After the brunch, the ladies left in droves. As some friends and I made our way out to the parking lot, I beheld this scene:

Four young, polo-wearing, tennis-shoe clad guys, chilling on their golf carts, under the shaded entrance. While my girlfriends, in their heels and dry-clean-only blouses, braved the 90 degree heat on the merciless trek out to their cars. I think Ashley had some contractions.

If I were to say my consequent actions were perfect, I’d be lying.

Here’s my first mistake.

I forgot the principle of Audience. I knew we paid for valet parking. I knew the country club was inefficient, to say the least. I didn’t need 5 of my girlfriends to confirm that fact. And, when asked by Mark, the head golf-cart dude, what my problem was, I knew better than to tell him that he and his buddies were being lazy.

I know the principle of Audience is to bring your beef to the one in charge. You’re supposed to be solution-oriented.

The second mistake I made was to disregard, momentarily, the Principle of Leave Them with Their Dignity. Regardless of who’s wrong and who’s right, it’s my responsibility, as a representative of Christ, to preserve everyone’s dignity.

I haven’t always been faithful to the principle of Audience or to the principle of Leave Them with Dignity.

Like a month ago, when I yelled at the man at the check-in desk at University Hospital. If I had been faithful to the principles of Audience and Dignity, I would have quietly approached his throne and humbly inquired why he insisted on over-exerting his authority on all who entered his domain. I didn't.

After the “scene” with the golf cart dudes and my friend going into labor (not really) I can say that I got back on track with my Principles. I maturely discussed the problem with the manager in his office. I used words like “expectations,” “clarify,” “understand” and “going forward.” It was all very solution-oriented and business-like. I even spoke with Mark on the way out. I wish you could have seen me.

But, you didn’t. You probably saw me earlier, struggling for some balance between achieving what’s due and acting like a Christian.

I think the two can co-exist. I still have some work to do.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Power of Pain

Last week, I wrote about pain’s potential to awaken us to our true condition—fallen and in need of Something Else.

For some of us, like the Laodiceans in the early church, this is a much needed revelation. For most of us, we’re already well acquainted with the chaos of the world in which we live. If we remain only with the knowledge of our fallen state, we’re in a sorry place. So, here’s where pain can make its second contribution:

Pain has the power to introduce us to Jesus.

With the onset of pain, there are many places one can run for comfort, relief and temporary distraction. I know, as a Christ-follower, that I should run towards Jesus with my pain. Sometimes I have to force myself to stop distracting my mind with superficial fixes and to get on my knees. Other times, the overwhelming pain partners with gravity and literally pulls me to the floor on my face in prayer.

Pain is where Jesus has become most real to me. His presence, almost tangible and his comfort, palpable. His spirit and his word have promised me that as deep as my pain reaches, so his touch will extend. And he’s been good on his promise.

My most recent meditation has been the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

The miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection is remarkable, but it hasn’t been the focus of my study. My thoughts have stayed on the interactions Jesus has with Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, while their brother is still dead.

Mary runs to Jesus with her pain and exclaims, in essence, “Where were you? You could have stopped this and you did nothing!” Jesus isn’t threatened by her brokenness or insinuated accusations. In fact, he doesn’t even respond to her question with words.

He just weeps.

With this reaction, we have the Beginning and the End, the God-Who-Made-Time, who knew the miracle that would imminently transpire, stopping. He’s not offended by her expectations of him. He doesn’t patronize her with exhortations to more faith and less humanness. He steps outside of his all-knowing-ness and enters her pain.

He just weeps.

I know, because of my own experience, that Mary was transformed in that moment. I believe that for the rest of her life she cherished the opportunity given to her by pain to truly meet Jesus.

Many of us find ourselves, like Mary, running to Jesus. If we’ll stop long enough, if we’ll pause after we’ve emptied our hearts of our petitions, we just might meet Him. In the quietness of our pain, we may catch a glimpse of God Almighty weeping.

Thursday, April 30, 2009


A group of ladies and I have embarked on a biblestudy that has required us to ask some soul-searching questions. Questions about identity, our pasts, the ways we cope and deal with what’s required of us and who God really is. I’ve learned, with renewed conviction, that we’ve all been wounded. Regardless of family structure, church background, or socio economic status, the world will find a way to us and brokenness is a result. Get a group of women together that will risk comfort to find community, and authentic stories of brokenness will emerge.

So, I’ve been pondering the value of brokenness.

If there’s a succession of stages one goes through on her journey in dealing with brokenness, the first stage is this:

Brokenness awakens us to our true condition.

It’s easy at times to forget that this indeed is a fallen world. Listen to my afternoon:

Carter got up from a nap and I put him in the bike trailer. We rode past two lakes with their exotic birds and turtles, under a gorgeous Florida sky, to our neighborhood park where we played under expensive shade coverings and mommies walked around with Starbucks lattes in their hands.

When we’re not grappling with a present crisis, we slip into believing what we see is real. Jesus rebuked a community of Christians because at some point they began to believe the message of their material wealth and social status’.

“7You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

The truth is that things are not as they should be. Adam ate the apple and humanity was banned from the Garden. And the age-old enemy of man and God still wages war today. The truth is, we were born broken. Our souls are just as prone as Eve’s to make our own way, to figure out life and living without God.

And that’s a Problem. It’s a Problem that equals problems here on earth. War, poverty, abuse, abandonment, rebellion, disrespect, and betrayal. Those are all problems that stem from the Problem. This Problem even extends beyond earth into eternity. It becomes even worse than anything we might experience here. The Problem can result in hell.

Now, enter brokenness and pain. These “undesired gifts” alert us to the Problem. They lift the veil from our eyes, if ever so brief, to see the ugly, helpless and sorry state of affairs. Billions, literally, billions of people live unveiled, face to face with the reality of humanity without God. Sex trade slaves, hungry babies, HIV patients, tsunami victims—the only truth they know is brokenness and pain.

If you’re reading this, you probably aren’t one of them. You’re probably sitting on a comfortable chair, with your expensive laptop, in your air conditioned home.

Me, too.

And that’s exactly why we need pain. We need an awakening—a message that reaches to the core of who we are. So, embrace your brokenness. Thank God for not allowing you to float through life, unaffected, and blinded to your need for Something Else.

Your pain is real. It’s realer than you think, and Someone wants to do something about it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

my new resolution

Ahh...just put the boys to bed, sitting down with my laptop and a nice cup of hippy-detox-your-body-and-pay-too-much-for-this-bag tea.

I haven't been posting much. At all. But, I have been reading. And I've noticed a trend. Fellow bloggers like Anne Jackson (she rocks), Gary Lamb (kind of like blue-collar-tour found Jesus) and my husband have a few things in common.


And shorter posts.

I'm beginning to think the two might have something to do with each other.

So, my new commitment to you, my readers, is that I will post more regularly. And, I will try to leave the dissertations for my fantasy graduate work. I may have to break up some thoughts over days. Or weeks. But, each individual post will be less chapter-like and more blog-like.

Can you track with me?

Here's to my first attempt...

Monday, March 23, 2009

American Christianity

There are all kinds of Christians in America. All with different experiences of God, Christian community and belief systems. I’ve been a member of a charismatic speak-in-tongues kind of church, a Baptist church, a Methodist church and presently I’m serving at a non-denominational church. And yet, with all that church experience, when I visited an Episcopalian church with a college friend, I felt as much a heathen as any visiting atheist might have. The different opportunities to experience God and community vary in this country as much as the cultures and ethnicities it contains.

Jim and Casper Go to Church
is a book entirely dedicated to the criticism of modern American Christianity. In the book, a Christian and an agnostic travel around the country to prominent protestant churches, sit in the back rows with their laptops, and critique. TD Jakes, Rick Warren, Marc Driscoll—they all receive their share of sarcastic analysis. A few churches received a satisfactory review. These had the common denominator of being socially-aware and driven by service to the poor and marginalized. The worst reviews were reserved for the churches with wealthy congregations. So, without confessing it, Jim and Casper’s plumb line for American Christianity was each church’s measure of service to the poor.

For some readers, their book might inspire them to obey Jesus’ commands to serve the poor more literally. And I applaud that reaction. But, for most, I would wager, the reaction would be more like what I experienced.


There is a fine balance between criticizing the local church and distancing oneself from her. Many popular “post-modern” authors try to walk that line, and many don’t. Many well-intentioned writers and speakers sense in their spirits something awry with American Christianity. Instead of wrestling to get to a place where the truth of what’s wrong can coexist with love for the wrong-doers, they create a world-view of “us-versus-them.” The problem is that we, as Christians, belong to each other. The Us and the Them share the same body of Christ.

So, American Christians, let’s get candid about our gripes but bold enough to persevere to a place of love.

I’ll go first and make my confession: I have within me greater empathy for the physically needy than for the spiritually needy. My major was international affairs. My heart beats for Latin America. I feel at home in a Mayan hut in the Yucatan jungle. I fantasize about living in Africa with two outfits to my name. I taught in the inner city to appease my conscious. And I fiercely wrestled with God when he called my husband and I to serve the local church in middle-class white suburbia.

I do believe the American church as a whole is missing out on God’s truth and God’s commission to serve the poor. In the back of my mind and in the back of my soul, I have an abiding fear that we will reach heaven and become utterly undone with grief over the missed opportunities to minister to Jesus through the poor. I cannot shake this nor do I wish to. I hope this fear will continue to motivate me and my family to give financially to make the physical difference that’s desperately needed.

At one time, this “sensitivity” to one aspect missing in American Christianity prevented me from loving the church. Instead of wrestling with this knowledge of truth, I let it sit and fester. Spiritual pride, judgment, bitterness and cold-heartedness all grew from this seed of what was once just a piece of discernment.

I’ve seen this happen to others, too. A few friends of mine in college discerned the pervasive health-and-wealth malarkey being preached in some large churches. Instead of using that awareness to help avoid perpetuating that kind of doctrine, they avoided Christian community overall. They had a preacher that they tracked with via podcasts. One whose sermon’s really convicted you. Made you feel all wretched-sinner-saved-by-grace-ish. And then they had a few select Christian friends. Hopped around different churches and campus ministries, too enlightened to really settle in and expend their energies.

They had discerned something amiss with American Christianity. Something-off base and truly wrong. But their mistake, as was mine, was to let that discernment distance them from their brothers and sisters. Without service, without investing their lives into a local church, they involuntarily joined the ranks of the Pharisees. Persons of knowledge and discernment, but without love and self-sacrifice. Paul said it best, confessing that knowledge, discernment, spiritual gifts, service to the poor and martyrdom without love all mean absolutely nothing.

It takes nothing to be a prophet. To read scripture, to look around and then to call out the wrongs of the church. It takes the love of Christ, deeply abiding and transforming, to have that same discernment and then to humble oneself through service.

So, I ask you, Jim (he was the Christian in the book)—are you serving the local church? Have you used your insights into American Christianity’s muddled practices to bring you to your knees in intercession? Are you vested in a local community, laboring for God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven? If not, then I humbly plead with you to stop writing and speaking and leading others. The place you are bringing them to is not solution-oriented. It is doubtful, disillusioned, and isolated.

You see, there are some beautiful Christians I know. They are rich and they are poor. They are educated and they are illiterate. They’re serving in the inner city, and they’re serving the city’s wealthiest. And the one thing they have in common is that they’re in the trenches. They’re building relationships with non-believers and they’re meeting to worship and learn together. They’ve settled somewhere, in a city in America, and they’re making it their life’s calling to see God establish his kingdom in that place.

You should meet these people sometime. But you won’t do it from the back pew with a laptop. You won’t get there by writing off “large churches.” You won’t do it by judging a church’s spirituality on her ministry to the physically poor.

You’ll meet these beautiful American Christians when you pause from the prophecies and you start serving.

My Bible says that God will make his church spotless and pure. And, as long as we’re living here, that church includes America’s Christians.

May Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Why I'm not a Presbyterian

I’m going to offend some of you. And it won’t be because you’ll learn about my friend, Anna, a Penthouse model who helped shaped my theology. I’ll offend you because I’ll take hundreds of year’s worth of revered debates and boil them down to simple, generalized arguments. I will not do John Calvin justice. So, forgive me and read on or don’t.

Seven FSU football seasons ago, a friend and I were eating lunch at the mall. We ate our grilled chicken salads at the bar to get a better view of the game we felt obligated to watch. Into the first quarter, I noticed, well, everyone noticed a beautiful woman with fake blond tresses and other fake features. She was visibly upset and kept trying to get through to someone on the pay phone. When she came back to the bar, she rummaged through her purse for another quarter. I offered her some coin change and we began to talk.

Anna, I learned, was a Penthouse model. Anna’s drunk boyfriend was angry with her at the time and would not return her calls. Anna once dated the drummer of some band I’d never heard of. “Have you seen their music videos? Check out his right arm—there’s my tattoo” Anna shared with me questions of her soul—questions about God, what’s right and what’s wrong (not joking—she asked me some crazy questions), and why she couldn’t seem to leave her boyfriend.

I mostly listened. I spoke truth—Jesus loves you and has more for your life than this. I listened some more. An hour later, she told me I was her angel (a very illogical cliché) and I prayed with her right there, on the bar stools.

Anna is why I’m not a Presbyterian. Or a Calvinist. Or a believer in God pre-determining the choices people will make regarding Him.

That Christmas I went home and I spent the entire three weeks of winter break researching and studying this favorite debate of the saints. Does God choose for us? How much “free will” do we have? I read compelling arguments, citing passages from the Bible that seem to support the argument that God does choose our destinies. I read biographies of theologians, each deeply persuaded and convicted of his stance. I felt the emotions articulated by the debaters. On one side, God’s sovereignty was at stake. On the other side, God’s mercy and fairness were in play.

Towards the end of my research, I paused from the arguments, the articles and the interpretations. I decided to look at the pattern of my life. By that point in my life, I had already noticed that my belief system was more than just a list of credos and mantras. I was well aware of the fact that whatever I believed, I acted upon. My actions were the fruit of my beliefs—the honorable and truthful and the selfish and corrupt. I fearfully accepted that whatever the outcome of my choosing was would significantly impact my life.

So, I thought about my faith—not in God, but in the idea that people can change. I thought about my capacity to hope for the unseen, to act upon what could be. I thought about Jesus’ command to go and make disciples.

I thought about Anna.

If I adopted a belief system that provided the slightest doubt that Anna might not be one of the chosen, I know what my heart would do. My heart would pre-judge and would subconsciously categorize her as someone outside God’s reach.

For Anna’s sake, and the sake of all other persons who seem “far” from God, I chose to believe that the Spirit is actively pursuing all men. That God desires for all to be saved. That his death covered every man’s offense.

This side of the fence is the only place from which I can honestly spend my life in pursuit of others.

Neal and I have a friend who landed on the other side because it released him from believing that he was responsible for his family’s salvation. He felt tremendous peace and security with God as a result. He’s now employed by a campus ministry and he is spending his life in pursuit of others. I have the utmost respect for him and I rejoice with his life’s work.

In the quietness of my heart, I believe that God is beyond the debates and the man-made sides of the fence. He is outside of our finite understanding and petty arguments. He is God. And He can do whatever He wants.

But for now, on this side of eternity, with my limited understanding, this is where I land. It’s a place where my faith is increased. It’s a place where even Penthouse models can find Jesus.

Monday, March 2, 2009

shoes and water

A long time ago a woman had a conversation with Jesus. She had been going to the same place, week after week, year after year, for a drink of water. Jesus met her there and offered her something different. His water, he said, would quench her thirst. It would satisfy. She didn’t need anything more.
- - -
I am an over analyzer. That’s why I have this blog. I need time and I need words to process this world and the beliefs to which I hold fast. Most days, the situations I encounter are easily sorted into the constructs of my mind. Like a coin sorter, life enters my minds-eye and directs itself through the appropriate processes. Free will, God’s love, the promise of redemption, and heaven eagerly capture stray thoughts and pair them with Sunday school answers. Make no mistake, I have painstakingly forged these answers over the years. Each strain of my theology has been labored over. Now, though, I let those beliefs earn their keep as they work to make sense of the chaos we call Life.

There are a few questions I have, a few issues that are unresolved. I mean, I know the “answers”—what the theologians and spiritual leaders would say. But those answers have yet to become a conduit, a process for my own thoughts. Those answers haven’t yet settled in my soul.

Every now and then something will happen that exposes those naked parts of my theology. When that happens, when I can’t wrap my mind around something, I have two choices. I can let my mind descend into the land of no-return, or I can think about shoes.

So, I think about shoes. Some count sheep; I have shoe-thoughts. It doesn’t help when Dillard’s has ridiculous sales. It doesn’t help when I have a couple gift cards left over from Christmas. It doesn’t help when my husband doesn’t even balk at the sight of (4) new shoe boxes hiding at the back of our closet.*

Like the woman at the well, I am literally buying a temporary respite from the unresolved issues of my soul. It really does work. I can go to sleep, I can maintain family responsibilities, I can keep the unanswerable at bay. It doesn’t require a purchase—all I have to do is think of shoes.

A recent tragedy has churned the waters of doubt and insecurity again. I came crying to Neal and we talked through our perspectives. He issued the answers I typically defend. I indulged my weakness and pushed back. The talk was cathartic so I shouldn’t have a hard time sleeping tonight. Even without the aid of shoe-thoughts. Neal, however, jokingly suggested I check out the latest sale tomorrow. I do need gold shoes for a wedding in May.

I also know better. I know that the shoe-thoughts won’t last, that the relief will wane just as surely as one drink of water does. I might consider asking Jesus for something more permanent. Something of Himself that won’t leave me wanting more.

*I’m so afraid of you judging me I have to write that those four boxes were all purchased through gift cards! Okay, I feel absolved.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Teaching History to Children

Here are a couple of snippets from my week with my students:

(After reading a biography on Martin Luther King, Jr. with my fourth graders)

Amanda: I have a question, Mrs. McCullohs.
Me: Sure, Amanda.
Amanda: Was Dr. King the President?
Me: No, Amanda, he was a very influential leader, but not ever president.
Vanessa: Did the black people have their own president?
Me: No, they were and are American citizens, like everyone else. We all have the same president.
Amanda: So, the U.S. only had white presidents?
Me: Yep.
Me: Soo...
(I give them a probing look...but am only greeted with more silence)
Me: So, Barack Obama is our first black president.
Vanessa and Amanda: Whoa!
Me: Where have you guys been these past 3 months??

(Later in the week with another 4th grade group)

Text: Although Dr. King believed in nonviolence his enemies did not. Crosses were burned on his lawn and his house was bombed. Still, he did not give up.

Ahmed: (frantically covering the paragraph with his hands) Uh, oh, Mrs. McCullohs! I'm not allowed to read about this!
Me: What do you mean? No one was hurt.
Ahmed: No, it's against my religion. I can't talk about crosses and stuff.
Me: Ahmed, the book isn't talking about Jesus or telling you what you should believe. I'm not trying to convert you. It's history, Ahmed.
Ahmed: (with a look of relief) Oh...
Me (desired response): According to your own Koran, Ahmed, Jesus was a prophet and is no threat to Islam. Let's get it straight before you start trying to separate religion from culture and culture from history. I'm supposed to read you guys books with Native American spirit quests, African healing rituals, Mohammad's fast of Ramadan and Lon Po's dead ancestors. Don't tell me I can't tell you why a cross was burned on Dr. King's front lawn.
Me (actual response): Let's keep reading.

(Again, with my brilliant fourth graders)

Text: Martin found inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi, a leader from India who believed in nonviolence. Even after Martin was arrested, he still preached "love your enemies."

Me: Brief discourse on the history of violence throughout the ages and how radical it was to try to change things without force. I'm getting emotional here, and passionate. Once again, I'm personally awed by Gandhi and Dr. King's respective feats.
Once I'm finished, there's a pause for effect.
Gia: If someone arrested me, they'd wake up the next day unconscious in Cuba.
Me (actual response): Seriously, Gia?
Me (desired response): That's not cute. That's not funny. That doesn't even make sense. I can't wait to take you back to class.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I heard a first yesterday.

While driving home and listening to NPR, I heard an interview of Bishop V. Gene Robinson. Robinson is the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal church. He advised Barack Obama on gay-rights issues during the primaries and has recently been invited to say the opening prayer at the inaugural kick-off. You can listen to the interview (5 minutes) here:

The interviewer asked Robinson if he was able to glean any inspiration by reading through inaugural prayers of the past. Robinson stated that the effect was exactly the opposite. He was dismayed at how "aggressively Christian" the prayers had been. Robinson said that he would strive to be more inclusive of all religions in his prayer, that he would not invoke the name of Jesus, and, in fact, that he would be addressing his prayer to "the-god-of-many-understandings."


While the interviewer was impressed with this new term, I was not. On a political level, I would prefer that Obama recruit representatives of all different faiths to pray to their respective gods. Allah, Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Yahweh--let's give them each their proper address. This invented, edgy term, Mr. Robinson, is simply bound to get the wires of communication crossed in the heavens/Sheol/nirvana/afterlife other-worlds.

Without indulging too much into the apologetic argument against pluralism, this term simply doesn't work. The beauty of Christ is that He is God-Revealed-To-Us. John rightly said that no one could see or understand God, so God-the-Son explained Him to us. My conviction is that my religion is different than all others and everything in between because it is not my self's brilliant concoction of "what works for me." The beliefs I own, the worldview I hold to, are not self-invented. To a more accurate end, they are not even man-invented. The little light that I have has been revealed.

I have within me a deep rejection of this idea of this god-of-many-understandings because I know I am prone to worship him. The-god-of-my-understanding and I have a familiar history. He presents himself as an attractive alternate to God-Revealed-to-Us (Christ) whenever I come across scripture with which I struggle.

I am tempted to partake in a "buffet-bible"- I like this over here, so I'll put it on my plate of convictions, not so sure about that stuff, so I'll just pass on it. There exist serious stumbling blocks in the Bible that I have made a career of trying to jump over. My toes are now bandaged, but every now and then the wounds feel fresh. And yet I persist in receiving God's word unedited, in spite of my biases, personal life experiences and impaired understanding.

Instead me requiring that God accommodate himself to my comprehension and my lifestyle, He has required that I accommodate myself and my worldview to Him and His. He gave the command, "be holy, for I am holy." We are the ones who are to apply ourselves to his truth which has already been revealed.

Come January 20, let's pray to God-Revealed-To-Us. Let's ask Him to guide this nation and bring attention to Himself. Let's also ask Him to guard our hearts against the seductive inclination to imagine Him as we would like, and not as He Is.

The-god-of-many-understandings is alive and well today, but we bow to One who will receive all glory and praise. May our knees be worn and our minds be changed in this present as we look to that day.

Friday, January 2, 2009

My Resolutions for Someone Else

There's so much talk right now of New Year's resolutions. It's a beautiful idea-- we take time every year to reflect on the past and to resolve to become our better selves. On our recent trip to visit my family in West Palm Beach, Neal and I talked about resolutions and goals for 2009. He told me his and I silently praised God for the hope for change (I'm feeling sarcastic and curt right now, so brace yourself). Then, he proceeded to tell me his ideas for what should be my resolutions. Under normal circumstances, I would receive these suggestions because he genuinely desires for me to succeed in life. However, in this post and with my current sour attitude, I will simply thank my dear husband for the pristine inspiration to write what follows.

My Resolutions for Someone Else:

Obama--I will hire the world's best PR consultant to manage my wife's seething bitterness.

Jen Moore--This year, I will painstakingly let my natural color grow back in to save money and make April feel better about her brunette status. Then, I will blog about how much more seriously people take me because I am no longer blonde.

Stephen Colbert--I will dro the consanan at the end of every wor to really prov I speak Fren.

Brad Saab--This year, I will write my own personality test, proving that I am a pack of timber wolves.

Rick Warren--I'm gonna hold a non-partisan debate between Tina Fey and Sarah Palin. I will charge for tickets to raise money for our struggling congregation.

Britney Spears--I will hire Michelle Obama's PR consultant to manage my image.

Meghan Stewart-- I am going to have a storybook wedding, honeymoon and happily ever after.

China --We have no resolutions. Number 1, it's not yet our new year. Number 2, we had glaring human rights violations, censorship and underage athletes during the summer Olympics. The world praised our opening ceremonies. What is there to change?

Angelina Jolie--I'm going to continue to purge my sins through procreation. And, I'm going to piss April McCullohs off with my gorgeous lips. Muwah.

Fidel Castro--Viva la Revolucion! I am going to live through another 40 years of Cuban communism.

Keifer Sutherland--I will speak in a whisper at all times so people will take me seriously. Um, a quieter whisper.

So, that's it! Next New Year's, when the world around you is sincerely vowing to lose that weight, to get up earlier and to be kinder, fight the urge to enlighten yourself and write a list for others. Come February, they'll be feeling guilty, you won't and you'll still have your list.