So, uh…

There are some very unlucky folks wandering around the interweb trying to find pictures of naked ladies and such and winding up here. I know this because I get a stat report that shows me how many people visit the site and how they get here. If they come from a search engine, I'm able to see what terms they searched to get here and what page on my site it took them to. If you've been around here long, you may recall that my attorney friend played a little game with this feature a couple of years ago, entertaining me with all kinds of creative search hits. Anyway, there have been a few of these this week, and I'm pretty sure it's not Andy this time. The whole thing is odd because (among other oddities), the terms they are searching have no correlation to the page(s) on my site they're finding. The moral of the story is, of course, if you aren't smart enough to use a better method for finding pictures of naked ladies, you deserve to end up here. Sorry, dude.

Some new tricks and gadgets…

In my renewed blogging energies, I realized I was exceptionally bored looking at the page, so I spent a few minutes playing with a new look.

I also discovered that Typepad, the people I pay to let me do this (or the people I've been paying to let me not do this) has added all kinds of bells and whistles to my service. I'm toying with some widgets. Now if you thought "widget" was the official term for an actor playing a munchkin in The Wizard of Oz, join the club. As it turns out, it's not. [For those who find that joke insensitive, please know that I am very pro-little people and then go look at how those actors are actually billed at imdb.]

One of those widgets is the box you see in the upper right of the page. This enables those of you with microphones built into your computer to record a message for me. I do this with great faith that you will provide me with an endless stream of inspiration, wisdom, and edification. Don't let me down.

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Third time’s a charm (but so were the first two)

You may recall that back in October we hatched another baby human – Ainsley Kate. She’s now five months old and has fully entrenched herself in our family and routine. If I were a better Dad or a better blogger, I’d have written a lot about her and posted a pile of pictures in the last five-plus months. Alas, I’m neither. When Aiden was little, I was, at least relative to my present self, a blogging machine and, admittedly, also fascinated by the new adventure of caring for my very own human. The girls have been no less fun or worthy of blog space. They’ve just gotten less attention here as they’ve consumed more of my attention in real life.

Tonight I had my posting window open preparing to write something really brilliant and funny when Ainsley started crying for the fourth time. I finally conceded to her impatience and went and got her out of bed. I assumed she was feeling ill, teething, or something that would make me feel sorry for her. After inspecting her, however, I’ve discovered that she just preferred to get up and hang out with me at nearly 1 a.m. Fair enough. My kids come by not wanting to go to bed at night honestly. So here we are blogging in real time….

Photo_10_4  Photo_12_3

I didn’t tell her to wave – she did that all on her own.

So while we’re up together, I thought I’d record a few thoughts to and about my third child and second daughter. It’s hard to imagine that the archives of Daddy’s little internet playground will be around and available to them when they’re old enough to wonder why they got inequitable treatment here…except that I’m married to a woman who will make sure that happens (not to point out the inequity, but to record and preserve important things for our family). I don’t do this to be cute or overly public with personal words to my child. It just seems like a good thing to do tonight. If you’re not interested, there will be more world-saving words here soon enough.

Ainsley Kate,

You are my sweetest surprise.

Though I’d heard your mom tell me that we were pregnant more than once before, the news about you was not expected. By the time you’re old enough to read this, you’ll have heard the story enough that it probably bores you to read it here, but we were not planning on "making" any more babies – just buying them. We don’t completely know why God builds families the way he does. Our lives are rich with the full spectrum of His creativity in that way. Some of your friends are from families that are all biologically connected, some are from families that are built not on biology but, as Ross says, heart of one another’s heart and soul of one another’s soul, and some are both. But they’re all real family, none more or less than the other. They’re family to one another, and they’re family to us.

And we love that. It’s part of what prepared us to experience your sudden appearance in your mom’s body not as an interruption in our plan, but as a gift from the Lord we didn’t know to expect. There was never a question or hesitation about that for us. Somewhere in deep places I don’t voluntarily access and certainly cannot explain, I even knew you were a girl the day your mom brought Ella home with a sticker on her back that said, "middle child." Just like the first two, I have a hard time remembering not knowing you. You’ve been living freely in my home for less than six months, and it seems I’ve always known you. I love you for this.

You are my sweetest surprise. You are also my loudest surprise. And my quietest. You are a mystery in that way – quieter than the other two were most of the time, but when you decide to express yourself, louder than either of them by a factor of at least seven. I’ve never heard a human being scream with this particular intensity, volume, and pitch. It hurts. No, really. It’s painful. But I love you for this.

I also love you for your smiles. I love that you jump at me when I walk in the room. I love that you always want to put your hands on my face right now when I’m holding you. I love that you always want to be in the room with us. I love that you think Aiden is the funniest person alive. I love that you smile when Ella talks to you despite her being responsible for roughly 75% of the pain and suffering you’ve experienced in your short life. She really loves you; she just has a rather aggressive way of expressing it. And it’s not just you. This is who Ella is. But you seem to get that already, and I love you for it.

I love that though I get all kinds of smiles and happiness from you that, at times, no one else does, there are still times when no one but your mom will do. I love that you have her cheeks and chin and blue eyes. I love that you have her temperament. She doesn’t scream like you, but she’s the same combination of serenity with bursts of passion and emotion. I haven’t told her this yet, but she’ll read it here eventually – maybe about the same time you do. (She’s not my most faithful reader, but that’s okay because she’s my most faithful everything else, and she’s usually too busy with you guys to spend time reading blogs.) I can already see her in you, and I love you for that.

I don’t love you more than your brother or sister (or the others to come), but I don’t love you less. I love you, like them, with all of me; with a love that dwarfs words and defies description. I love you as the divine creation of my unity with your mom, not just biologically, but spiritually. God made us one and made us a family. And I love you for being part of that. You are my sweetest surprise.

-dad

Some assorted miscellany, etc.

Don’t look now, it’s two posts in a week. Wait, do look now. It’s two posts in a week.

I forgot to tell you that the last post was mostly cooked up while I was driving home from a late night trip to Wal-Mart (in the rain). Those trips are very few and far between these days, but they were the source of much blogging inspiration back in the early days when I invented blogging. Remember that?

I know how this is going to sound, and I’m okay with it, but tonight I (mostly accidentally) re-read this post from a couple of years ago and concluded two things: (a) it’s really pretty good, and (b) though I think I’m a little nicer today than I was then, I still agree with almost all of it.

I have watched a disproportionate amount of basketball in the last four days. Disproportionate to what? you ask. Well, disproportionate to almost anything reasonable. It’s pretty rare for me to spend hours in front of the teevee at all, especially on consecutive days, but the madness of March remains my favorite sporting event in the world (maybe even the universe). It’s even more funner now that the Aggies get to play each year. Sadly for us, this is no longer considered a foul in college basketball:

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I’ve been digging around the rule book on this one, and it turns out that the contact by the guy mauling Sloan’s shooting elbow is negated by the contact of the other dude hacking across both of Sloan’s forearms. This, technically, makes it not a foul. Either that or my cousin (a VaTech grad who got hosed on selection Sunday) is right: "It’s UCLA. You have to win by more than two."

People keep finding me on the internet, despite my pathetic
inconsistency in actually posting over the last year or so. And when I
say "people keep finding me," I don’t mean that I’m getting wildly
popular. I just mean every now and then someone I haven’t seen since I
was 12 comments or sends me an email. And it’s almost always fun to
hear from them. When it’s not fun, I either respond in incoherent
redneck speak (just to confuse them) or by asking them to join me in my
new internet marketing venture which will enable us both to make
$20,000 a month within six months. This seems to solve things for
everyone.

My Dad, Britt,
and I removed a tree from my front yard yesterday. Britt did most of
the hard work, but I’m sore like an old man today. Swinging an ax does
not agree with my already partially dysfunctional shoulders. This is last because it is the least interesting paragraph in this post.

The perfect height for kicking

This evening as I was making my second pass through Bell X1’s Flock, I heard a terrific expression of one of the core struggles and themes of humanity. It goes like this:

She said, ‘I don’t believe in any old Jesus
If there was a God, then why is my arse
The perfect height for kicking?’

The question and the corresponding sentiment, of course, are not new. They are ancient and familiar to believers, unbelievers, and all of us who often find ourselves somewhere in the dizzying reality between belief and unbelief (you know, like this guy and this guy and this guy).

We all grapple with the nature of God in light of the often chaotic mosaic of our lives. I live among a community of folks who have elected to pull back the veil on the chaos, hoping (and increasingly believing) that doing so is both a matter of obedience and a unique opportunity for healing. This is good, and I wouldn’t trade my people for your people, even on the days that my people drive me up the friggin’ wall. I love them and I love that they love me and I love that they love Jesus enough to let me love them (imperfectly), to love me (imperfectly), and to continue pressing into a Way that is mysterious in its reckless redemption of dying things.

And still it’s hard. This exposing of sin and strife and suffering wears me down. It wears all of us down. Even amid undeniable healing and resurrection we find ourselves begging, some days at the top of our lungs and others in a raw whisper: "I believe; help my unbelief." Or, "God if you’re really on my side, why is my arse the perfect height for kicking?"

This is a conversation we’ve been having a lot lately, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting on it this Lenten season. Is our community more afflicted than most? Are we more screwed-up? Are we screwing each other up? Are we just more honest about our brokenness?

I’m not sure I can confidently answer all of those questions, though I’m pretty convinced that the stuff we fight through is not unique – it’s just less hidden. I’m haunted by certain memories that paper the walls of that conviction: memories of marriages of good church people "suddenly" unraveling after decades ("We had no idea. They seemed so happy.") … of deacons weeping openly about depression and spiritual emptiness they kept secret for years …. of men, women, and children living under palpable clouds of darkness with no sense of how to find the light, despite sitting in the pew three times a week.

This is not intended as a critique of any other church community, past or present, but rather an affirmation of what many pastors and church people will openly admit – the church is, by and large, tragically impoverished when it comes to confession, honesty, and the sharing of our deepest burdens. This is no small problem, and it threatens the vitality and mission of God’s people as much as any theological error, religious ritual, or bad preaching. My tribe is, I believe, emerging from this ghetto, but we’re early in the journey. We aren’t putting on seminars and building models for how to make your church like our church. We’re just trying to put one foot in front of the other on the trail of a wandering Jew.

We take those steps in faith, but sometimes we need more faith. Sometimes we ask for relief from the pile of pain; sometimes we ask for the grace to endure and find God sitting with us as we cry. In the big middle of that, I came upon this from N.T. Wright, writing about some of Paul’s words to the Corinthian church:

What Paul wants his hearers to grasp is that they already have, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, all the glory they could possibly want. He will shortly explain that in more detail. But we can imagine the Corinthians being very puzzled, just as people today might be very puzzled. Outsiders often look at the church, full of muddle and sin and shame and halfheartedness and back-biting, and clergy who don’t know what they’re talking about and laity who go wandering off the point, and they say, "Well, if that’s all you’ve got to show for the wonderful message you talk about, you really are a muddled lot. How can you possibly be the body of Christ, the temple of the living God, as you say you are called to be?"

The answer comes again and again in 2 Corinthians. The glory of Christ is not revealed in spectacular show of success, in people who get everything right all the time. People like that, as we know, can sometimes be a pain in the neck. The church reveals the glory of Christ through suffering and shame as much as through what the world counts as success.

The way this happens is, often enough, that the church is called to be where the world is in pain, at the place where the world is suffering and in a state of shame and sorrow. The church is there as the presence of the suffering Christ in the world. (Wright, Reflecting the Glory, p. 19)

This may seem obvious to many, but it was something of a revelation for me. We speak of incarnation often – both in terms of God’s visiting humanity in Jesus and our ongoing mission to be the presence of Jesus in the world by the Spirit and through the Body. Often missing from that discussion is the reality that the Gospel is inextricably tied to the suffering presence of Jesus; to his embracing our deepest experiences of pain and sorrow. If we are ministers of that Gospel, surely part of our purpose is to occupy the same space in the world. Jesus even promises that our destiny in the world will be much the same as his, but I think we’ve seen that merely as a negative by-product of our eternal salvation. We’ll take a few shots for Jesus, but we nail down a spot in heaven.

We lost the plot. Our pain and struggle in this life are part of the very thing we’re most after: Jesus alive in us, making all things new. The Kingdom of Heaven is not merely a future reality. It is on the march in us and through us, and we find more of it as Jesus – the Jesus who embodied both suffering and resurrection power in the world – continues to embody suffering and resurrection power in our bodies.

________________________________

Tangent footnote 1: I mentioned that I’ve been thinking on these things during Lent. Though I fully affirm the holiness of every day and season, I’ve come to understand the benefits of the community of God embracing certain seasons for certain purposes. The season of Lent allows us to collectively dwell on particular realities of life in the Spirit that feed our spirits and mature us in our understanding and experience of the incarnation of Jesus in and among us. Are labels like "Lent" or the accompanying practices necessary for that maturity? Of course not. Do they inhibit us from real communion with the Spirit? Perhaps at times, but I suspect that’s a reflection of some area where we’re not yet free and not something inherently evil about a word or a practice. Lent (like Advent and so forth) is just a vehicle we use to travel a certain road, much like leather wrappers and rice paper are vehicles for us to encounter the words of Scripture. It’s a bridge between our bodies and our spirits.

These kinds of reflections and discoveries, for me, are part of the joy of rediscovering (or discovering
for the first time) some of the actual life in the centuries-old habits
of the people of God. I mention this because many of my ilk (including me) have made an entire sport
out of mercilessly brutalizing the poor word "religion," insisting that
it has sucked the heart and soul out of folks aspiring to find God,
giving them dead orthodoxy instead. A friend of mine says that
"religious" has become among Jesus-types what "fascist" is among
political types; that it’s a pronouncement one can’t escape or defend
once any evidence of its presence is detected.

It’s true enough that many have wandered down the path of lifeless ritual,
and it’s also true that false religion has been the pied piper more
often than not. It’s just odd that we’ve become so quick to demonize a
word that the Scriptures don’t seem to treat so harshly. Perhaps James
and Timothy didn’t get the memo when they were penning their little
chunks of divine inspiration.

More problematic than the semantic game
is the condescending spirit we exude toward anything or anyone on whom
we sniff something religious. Never mind that over the centuries folks we in our modern relational sensibilities would find terminally "religious" have been so intimately acquainted with Jesus that they’ve allowed themselves to be burned alive for the sake of unity with him … or that they’ve forsaken many of the comforts that compete daily for our affections to care for the most neglected people on the planet, all because they’ve been drawn, at least in part through "religious" practice, into deep relationship with the man who said that’s where he was found … or that they actually assembled the Bibles we tote and quote to support our superior
"non-religious" way of following Jesus. Never mind the clear evidence of Jesus alive in those folk when we’ve found a real life in the
Spirit that all those dead guys never experienced because of the bondage of religion. In case it’s not
clear, this is a confessional rant. I was this guy for a long time, and
in many ways I still am. I’m just discovering that pride and graceless
words are a little worse for my soul than true religion. I repent of dead religious ritual, and I repent of pride, of loveless words, and of carrying banners that don’t belong to Jesus.

Tangent footnote 2: Bell X1 is an Irish indie pop-rock band who I discovered on St. Patrick’s Day. I wasn’t looking for anything Irish that day, but that’s when I came upon them nonetheless. I’ve only listened to the album about 1.4 times, so I can’t recommend it with any integrity yet, but I’m enjoying it so far. The line I quoted is from the first track, Rocky Took a Lover.

Tangent footnote 3: The boys are Irish, so the lyric really is "arse" and not the much more controversial "ass." That wasn’t an attempt to sanitize the song.