When giving thanks seems inadequate

Amy and I have been on a journey for the last six years. I hope to recount that tale in greater detail in the near future, and this summary will fall woefully short of communicating the heights, depths, joy, pain, struggle, and victory that has characterized our story. And, as a story, I’m sure it is both unremarkably common and strikingly distinct.

In any case, the road has led us to a new chapter in our lives. This past Sunday our church community gathered and affirmed me as an elder and a pastor. Although the conversation leading to this has been going on for some time, I’m sincerely humbled and awed all over again as I wrap words around this new reality. It’s exciting, sobering, and a little overwhelming all at once.

Depending on your past and present experience with the organi-/sm/zation called the church, words like elder and pastor will register in a particular way. I’ll probably write more about what they do mean in our context at some point, but for now here’s some of what they don’t necessarily mean or involve: polyester suits, three seminary degrees, Buicks, funny hats or robes, or being old and bitter. Now, I’m not saying those things are bad (well, maybe the first and the last one), but they just aren’t mandatory in our setting.

In a practical sense, it does mean I am leaving my job with A&M to work full-time for the church. Since we’re one of those weird little congregations without an actual building, I’ll headquarter at home and do my work there and as I roam about town. While I was traveling a few weeks ago, my unreasonably loving wife converted one of the bedrooms in our house to a wonderful little office for me to camp out in. (I’ll post some photos of her work soon.) I’ll get to work with three of my favorite guys in the world – Scot, Ross, and Chris – as fellow pastors and elders. And I’ll more fully be able to give my life to our new covenant family. This is all a good, good gift. I’m sure it’s possible to feel more content and blessed and grateful than Amy and I feel right now, but I’m not sure how.

I am thankful for those of you (and if you’re reading this, consider yourself included in that group) who have contributed to our journey to this point. Thanks for listening, praying, counseling, laughing, crying, and encouraging us along the way.

I am thankful for this gorgeous, excellent woman God created to be my companion, soul mate, chief encourager, example, and mother of my children.

I am thankful for my beautiful son, no longer a baby, but now a little boy with a life and energy coursing through his veins that reminds me he was created with purpose and joy.

I am thankful for my precious daughter, whose illogical happiness and satisfaction with her fragile new life dismantles my hardness and cynicism one smile at a time.

And, of course, I am thankful for the people who call themselves Community Church for trusting God enough to trust me, for recognizing Amy’s all around beauty and brilliance, for loving my kids, for being silly and faithful enough to believe beyond the ordinary, for valuing honesty, for giving weakness and vulnerability (and the weak and the vunlnerable) the space and protection they need to be mended and empowered by the Healer, and for following Jesus even when it seems like the least reasonable thing to do. May we continue to drink in and spill out the life that is really Life.

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On posting with(out) malice

In case there’s any confusion from the last post (and others like it), I don’t wish any ill will toward ladies whose sense of personal style causes me to shake my head. They just cause me to shake (and often turn – the other way) my head. I know this whole fashion thing is tricky for lots of folks, and I know my general lack of concern about anything fashion-related beyond trying not to look like a 30-year old guy who shops at Sears probably means I’m ill-qualified to even participate in a discussion of the matter. But those rules don’t apply on my blog. That’s just the way it goes here. And, if I can be serious for one or two sentences, I think in many cases this is but one of many symptoms of real issues of identity and the spirit. Dressing someone better doesn’t make their soul better. But I’ve got to fill this space with something, right?

As soon as I finished typing that paragraph, I got an email from the folks at J.Crew. Which one of you weenies did that?

Also, I actually do wish some amount of ill will toward CapitalOne, both for their incredibly annoying commercials featuring David Spade (the man who, in my generation, has most effectively parlayed smarmy into millions) and for trying to steal my money. I had to get my bank to take the money back from them to get anything done. Beware.

Game on

If you’re wondering when cometh the day that I return to blogging with all the fury and passion that got you hooked here; the day that I begin once again to publish with the uncommon beauty and unstoppable force that once made you certain I was on the verge of taking over the universe….if that’s what you’re wondering – Well friend, today is not that day.

However, if you’re wondering when cometh the day that I fill your head with some assorted and miscellaneous and extraneous and multifarious observations, stories, and fashion advice….if that’s what you’re wondering – Today is, indeed, that day. Try to compose yourself.

– Over the past few days I’ve been doing battle with a mega-financial-money-sucking-corporate-giant (MFMSCG) who, for all intents and purposes, stole nearly $400 from me and my family. My experience with this MFMSCG has unfolded in the following (approximate) sequence:

  1. MFMSCG steals my money.
  2. I call MFMSCG to tell them they stole my money and sit on hold for 20 minutes.
  3. MFMSCG finally answers and says, "We may have stolen your money, but my computer doesn’t show it yet, so you have to fax us your bank statement showing that we stole your money."
  4. I say, "Your computers don’t record it when they steal money from little guys like me?"
  5. MFMSCG says, "Eventually, but you still have to fax us your bank statement before we can get your money back to you."
  6. I fax MFMSCG my bank statement.
  7. Nothing happens.
  8. I call MFMSCG again and ask, "Where’s my money?"
  9. MFMSCG says, "It takes us 2-3 days to get through the pile of faxes, so nothing will happen until yours reaches the top of the pile.
  10. I say, "Listen MFMSCG, you stole nearly $400 from me, which is no small bit of change for a guy like me, and I need it back before you’ve had time to accumulate enough interest to pay for your next national ad campaign with my money.
  11. MFMSCG says, "It takes us 2-3 days to get through the pile of faxes, so nothing will happen until yours reaches the top of the pile."
  12. I ask for a MFMSCG supervisor.
  13. I get put on hold for a long time.
  14. Miraculously, MFMSCG supervisor answers.
  15. Repeat steps 8b-11.
  16. Supervisor then says, "And, as Hibashek told you when you called before, <insert unintelligible corporate responsibility-dodging rhetoric which no normal human can possibly hear and interpret given the sequence of the words and the pace at which they are read off the page stapled to the wall of every MFMSCG employee’s cubicle entitled "Default B.S. Answers to Give People in Order to Show as Little Resemblance to an Actual Humanoid as Possible" here>.
  17. Me: "………huh?"
  18. MFMSCG supervisor then, realizing that I am mentally handicapped, regurgitates the same line of MFMSCG horse manure but t h i s  t i m e  s p e a k i n g  m u c h  m o r e  s l o w e r e r  s o  t h a t  t h e  i d i o t  ( t h a t ‘ s  m e )  m i g h t  h a v e  a  c h a n c e  t o  u n d e r s t a n d  h e r  h i g h l y  e v o l v e d  l a n g u a g e.
  19. I catch something about needing to see my bank statement five days post-theft.
  20. I reply, "Okay, first of all, Hibashek never told me that. He told me very little, in fact, then transferred me to the supervisor line which only allowed me to leave a voice mail that was never returned. Anyway, he never told me that, and I know this because I understood everything he did say to me, and there’s no doubt I would have had just as much trouble understanding him as I did you if he had reeled off that nonsensical answer."
  21. Silence
  22. Me: "So, what you’re saying is my first fax was a waste? I now must wait five days, get a new copy of my bank statement, fax that to you, wait 2-3 more days for you to get to my fax in the large mountain of faxes (which I assume are from other people who have been robbed by MFMSCG), then wait an additional five days to have the money returned to me if, of course, you view all these documents and decide to admit that you did actually steal my money?"
  23. More silence
  24. Me: "Hello? This is what you’re saying, yes?"
  25. Sir, <MFMSCG repeats the same script from lines 16 and 18 above.>
  26. I seethe.
  27. Regaining a bit of composure, I then ask a series of measured and logical questions about how they, the MFMSCG who stole money from me, might be able to assist me, the customer who pays them money for a service (which happens to not be a "steal money from you" service), in a way that I don’t have to spend the next 7-10 business days separated from the $400 they stole from me.
  28. MFMSCG supervisor answers each of my reasonable questions like this: "No. No. No. No way. No. Never."

Which brings me to the punch line: Who is this MFMSCG?

David_spade_capital_one

Of course. Fortunately for them, neither tragic irony nor (apparently) false advertising are against the law.

– I have a good life. In many ways, it’s the life I always wanted but never knew how to want. More on this in days to come. It’s just nice to hear the whispers of Real Life and know it’s not the wind or the donkeys that live a mile behind our house and faintly brey in the distance after dark.

– If I could recommend that you read one book about farming, it would be this one. Of course, I’ve neverWb read any other books about farming, but this is a good one. Actually, it’s about the value of local community and the beauty we stand to lose if we aren’t intentional about such things. It is excellent writing about important ideas. Wendell Berry is the newest addition to my list of "I’ll keep reading what this guy writes even if I don’t agree with it because words like this strung together in this way demand to be read" writers.

– Dear hipster teen/college/early 20s ladies (and the unfortunate few who are older who also need to read this): I have a few notes on fashion for you. Yes, I am aware that I’m a 30-year old father of two. I’m aware that I have been known to make trips to Wal-Mart to buy combinations of diapers, butt wipes, feminine products for my wife, and clothes for myself. Please spare me the eye rolling and sighs as I lecture you on attire and personal presentation, young lady. Just listen up:

  • First, and I’m trying to be flexible and fair here, is there any chance we can negotiate an agreement to bring the skank phase of female fashion to a close in the near future? I’m willing to give you some time on this, as I know it’s tough to replace all at once a closet full of clothing items that are two sizes too small and missing the parts that cover the top inch of your butt crack, the bottom inch of your butt cheeks, the bottom two inches (or frighteningly more for those with more to work with) of your belly region, and the bulk of your breastages. But listen, this thing has run its course. Let’s take the pressure off and tell each other that the war is over. No one has anything left to prove. You’ve got it. You don’t got it. It doesn’t matter. Cover it. Let’s start a revolution wherein skank gives way to imagination. ‘Cause let’s be honest – the way this thing is going, there’s not much air left for imagination to breathe. It’s suffocating beneath the weight of your disclosure.Bigsun2Images2839_1
  • You do not look hipper, sexier, or smarter when wearing sunglasses your grandmother or Jackie O. would wear. You don’t. You look silly.
  • You do not look hipper, sexier, or smarter when smoking a cigarette. You don’t. You look silly.

That’s all for now. I’m not arguing for a return to the 50’s or trying to put you all in mumus and pleated jeans. I’m just sayin’, and I don’t think I’m alone: The murder of subtlety and dignity was ill-advised.

And yes, I’m aware that none of the regular visitors to this site (as far as I know) have any personal use for that lecture. But if you are one of these hipsters and you did somehow arrive here (perhaps through a Google search for "big, hip shades and really tight pants"), consider this a miraculous moment of divine intervention in your life. God loves you, so he wants to spare you from these awful trends and from the life-devouring lie that you need to engage your flesh in this sort of bass-ackwards battle for attention and affirmation.

– There are many forces in this world, to include but not limited to MFMSCGs and fashion trends, which are part of a bigger agenda to suck the life out of you and me and hipster girls and the two creepy guys standing in front of me at the last Aggie game who blatantly leered at almost every woman who walked past them, many of whom helped inspire my previous bullet point. That agenda and the forces which conspire to sustain it are powerful and relentless, but they are unable to inoculate themselves against Light and Life and Love. If you don’t believe that, I unapologetically declare that you should.

– Whether you’re bent toward admiring Bono or thinking he’s just a megalomaniac with a platform and a sliver of debatable conscience, this article (which is only part of the article actually printed in Rolling Stone) is a worthwhile read. Some highlights (with a bit of PG language, for the sensitive eyes out there):8588884_1

What is your religious belief today? What is your concept of God?

If I could put it simply, I would say that I believe there’s a force of love and logic in the world, a force of love and logic behind the universe. And I believe in the poetic genius of a creator who would choose to express such unfathomable power as a child born in "straw poverty"; i.e., the story of Christ makes sense to me.

How does it make sense?

As an artist, I see the poetry of it. It’s so brilliant. That this scale of creation, and the unfathomable universe, should describe itself in such vulnerability, as a child. That is mind-blowing to me. I guess that would make me a Christian. Although I don’t use the label, because it is so very hard to live up to. I feel like I’m the worst example of it, so I just kinda keep my mouth shut.

How big an influence is the Bible on your songwriting? How much do you draw on its imagery, its ideas?

It sustains me.

As a belief, or as a literary thing?

As a belief. These are hard subjects to talk about because you can sound like such a dickhead. I’m the sort of character who’s got to have an anchor. I want to be around immovable objects. I want to build my house on a rock, because even if the waters are not high around the house, I’m going to bring back a storm. I have that in me. So it’s sort of underpinning for me.

I don’t read it as a historical book. I don’t read it as, "Well, that’s good advice." I let it speak to me in other ways. They call it the rhema. It’s a hard word to translate from Greek, but it sort of means it changes in the moment you’re in. It seems to do that for me.

You’re saying it’s a living thing?

It’s a plumb line for me. In the Scriptures, it is self-described as a clear pool that you can see yourself in, to see where you’re at, if you’re still enough. I’m writing a poem at the moment called "The Pilgrim and His Lack of Progress." I’m not sure I’m the best advertisement for this stuff.

What do you think of the evangelical movement that we see in the United States now?

I’m wary of faith outside of actions. I’m wary of religiosity that ignores the wider world. In 2001, only seven percent of evangelicals polled felt it incumbent upon themselves to respond to the AIDS emergency. This appalled me. I asked for meetings with as many church leaders as would have them with me. I used my background in the Scriptures to speak to them about the so-called leprosy of our age and how I felt Christ would respond to it. And they had better get to it quickly, or they would be very much on the other side of what God was doing in the world.

Amazingly, they did respond. I couldn’t believe it. It almost ruined it for me — ’cause I love giving out about the church and Christianity. But they actually came through: Jesse Helms, you know, publicly repents for the way he thinks about AIDS.

I’ve started to see this community as a real resource in America. I have described them as "narrow-minded idealists." If you can widen the aperture of that idealism, these people want to change the world. They want their lives to have meaning. And it’s one of the things that the Democratic Party has missed out on. You know, so much of the moral high ground in the past was Democratic: FDR, RFK, Cesar Chavez. Now I suppose it’s Hillary’s passion for cheaper medical care. And Teddy Kennedy, of course.