What I Have Been Doing, Here, On the Eve of Christmas, When the World Didn't End

Careful_or_youll_end_up_in_my_novel_bumper_sticker-p128702484617530524en7pq_216I've been a bad, bad little blogger.  My last post was dated December 16th, nearly two weeks ago, and my (two) fans have been clamoring for more verbiage to tickle their ears and give them pause to reflect, so I have decided to comply with their wishes.  But if you're looking for another brooding bromide of brilliance here, you may wish to reconsider, since after over 900 posts and the intervening eight Christmases, I'm fresh out. (And yes, I know "bromide" isn't really the right word, but sometimes alliteration wins out.)


Today, we celebrated our annual Christmas lunch with my extended family. We pay close attention to the time at which such events are scheduled.  This one was slated for noon, and you must be there at noon or you'll be licking scraps from emptied serving bowls.  At 11:45, some of the men have to be tethered to their recliners, drooling, like rabid dogs, an unnatural posture for men and recliners as men seem fashioned by their Creator to perfectly reside in recliners, hands on their universal remotes.  Once untethered, the food is consumed in a leisurely 10 minutes, and then the men return to sofa and recliners and take up something, anything with pixels, on ESN (the Eternal Sports Network). I ate ham, green beans, sweet potato casserole, deviled eggs, potato salad, strawberry cobbler, pumpkin pie, a chocolate cover cherry, coconut meringue pie, and. . . and I think that's all.  I'm hungry again, though.

We don't partake of alcohol at our family get togethers.  We don't need to.  We have my nearly 90-year old aunt, who is hard of hearing, loud, bigoted, and opinionated, a wonderful aunt with a zest for life.  She had her hair done just for the event.  She's perfectly fine unless she starts talking about the boys that play on top of her house and play loud "boom-boom" music at all hours, or she starts talking about the subject of interracial marriage.  She engaged the latter topic recently as we dined at a nice restaurant, and it was a wonder we weren't ejected.  She's loud.  But as I said, we don't need alcohol to liven up things.  We have her.

I want to come clean right now.  I rear-ended another car recently.  No one was hurt.  I was only going about 10 miles and hour, which is like being stopped for someone who drives a Mini Cooper S.  The other gentleman was very nice about it. I was mad as h-e-double-hockey-sticks at myself. I think I did about $25 worth of damage to his car.  Mine suffered $7000 damage.  It's the first at fault two-car collision I have had in my long driving career.  I've been driving since I was seven, first illegally (with my aunt, the one who is bigoted and loud and my favorite) and then mostly legally.  I mean, I have had a few accidents, but mostly I have them alone it seems.  I backed into a mail box post, into a car in my driveway, into my unopened garage door, and maybe a few other things.  This time I was doing some other really important things in the car rather than paying attention to the road, like checking my IPhone, because you know you have to keep up with emails and such, immediately, or you may get behind in life, and they are all so very important.  Focus!

So, I just wanted to get that out there, just in case you think I'm practically perfect, Poppins-like, or something.

I think it was God-ordained.  Today, I woke up thinking of buying a new car.  There are few more pleasurable moments in a man's life than buying a new car, or a boat, something big with an engine that makes a lot of racket. One of my friends buys a new car like every six months.  Because, you know, new cars get old, quick, and the new car smells wears off, and you need to do something about it, so if you can, you buy a new car.  And if you can't afford that, you buy a bigger TV.

My brother-in-law just retired after 40 years of working.  He's going to stay home and bother my sister.  I expect him to buy a new TV, maybe a 70-inch model, with a universal remote that looks like one of those "recorders" from Star Trek.  Beam me up, Scotty.

I've been walking a lot here, on the eve of Christmas.  I have to, as I have been eating a lot.  People keep sending us food in the mail.  I'm trying to eat as much of it as I can but really, people, I can only handle so much.  The other night I ate 90% of a bag of some sugary chocolate covered pretzel kind of thing that one of my legal assistants gave me that was supposedly made by kids at a local elementary school.  It was my charitable duty.  I woke up this morning and could barely move. The other night I worked my way through a 10,000 gallon tin of butter, cheese, and caramel popcorn that someone sent.  The next morning I woke up and my feet would barely fit in my shoes.  I need to stop this.  Oh, the things we do for Christmas.

My aunt called me six times yesterday.  The boys are on the roof again.  That 'bong-bong' music.

I think I probably should buy a new car, come to think of it. I want a big one this time, with leather seats that I can easily slide my ample backside around in, making ingress and egress easy, and I want a big attenna on it, one that whips back and forth when I come to a screeching stop at a traffic light.  I want a car that stands up when you hit the accelerator.  And I want a jarring sound system that can make short work of the rap music thumping form the car one lane over.  Is that cool, or what?

I also took off work for a few days and put up the Christmas lights.  I put white lights in careful geometric patterns, in perfect concentric circles, on the trees in my front yard.  Lots of them.  Actually, I just threw them on the trees, haphazardly.  My wife helped.  At first she tried to help me do it somewhat carefully, seeking full coverage, but then we gave up and simply threw them all over the branches.  They look pretty good.  I used white lights in front so as not to offend the neighbors, and real Christmas lights in back, where only we can see them, you know, the colored ones.  Wow, it looks great. I even put in some twinkling ones, in the backyard of course.  In my piece of suburbia colored lights are taboo.  Forget about the giant lighted candles in the yard.  Growing up, we put orange-lit candles in our windows, so I come by it naturally.  We figured out later that the candle manufacturers put orange bulbs in the candles because nobody wants them (except us) and so they sell more bulbs of other colors.  We eventually got blue candles.  We showed them. Ha!

I put candles in the windows too.  Every night I turn all 7000 of them on, and off, at least it feels like I do. It takes forever!  The things we do for Christmas.


Some redeemed Mayan is laughing in Heaven.  I wasn't prepared for the end of the world anyway. I haven't done my taxes. Grrr.

Last year I got Retro Ranger Mints in my stocking,  like Altoids for park rangers.  I wonder what Santa will bring this year?

Yesterday I battled the traffic, the 10,000 cars (I like big numbers) that were in the turn lane for the mall, just so I could eat lunch with a friend.  11:45.  No wait at the restaurant.  I sat down, ordered ice tea, and worked my way through a loaf of bread.  After waiting 20 minutes, I received a text.  He asked if we could move the location for our 12:30 lunch.  12:30???  No problem.  I got nothing to do.  They gave me the bread and tea free, and I walked out, navigated 10,000 more cars in exiting, and went to the shopping mall up the road, where I circled the parking lots several times looking for a narrow spot I could slide into.  I made it.  I was so worked up I ate another loaf of bread. 

I've been listening to a lot of Christmas music.  I have to tell you, I have just about had enough of it, from Sufjan Stevens' "The Christmas Unicorn" to The Best of Amy Grant Christmas (I think she cut about 4000 Christmas records.)  My favorite: Rosie Thomas' (a/k/a Sheila Shaputo's) three-song Christmas EP.  Seriously.  Wearing it out.  But I'm telling you right now: On December 26th it's over.  I'm going to compile a best of 2012 Christmas and consign the rest of it to digital purgatory.  


Today, I read this: ". . . and the government shall be upon his shoulders."  I'm glad for that.  In all the stuff of life, I'm glad that Someone bigger than me and the smart people over me is in charge.  Because I can't fix my aunt.  I can't fix Christmas.  I can't fix the fiscal cliff or my physical cliff.  I can't stop doing stupid things like rear-ending a car.  But He can fix all that.

I might, however, buy both a new car and a bigger TV.  My wife had the temerity to ask why I needed to buy a bigger TV.  She just wants one that works.  If you have to ask, you just don't understand.  It's a self-evident truth.  Men and TVs.  Men and cars.

Well, that's some of the important things I have been working on here, on the eve of Christmas.

Oops.  Gotta go.  My aunt's calling.

Merry Christmas from Outwalking.




The Frail

"Frailty is a challenging time, but in caring for the frail, we can be enlightened about what it means to be fully human.  There's an awful lot that you can learn from frail people.  Of course, there are elements of frailty that can take away humanity.  Dementia is an example of that.  But generally, there is no reason to warehouse the frail, not to talk to the frail, not to be loved by the frail.  They may not be the people they once were, but they are human beings and there is great value to be found in them."

(Dr. Norton Hadler, in Rethinking Aging)

Cassie, and elderly African-American woman, was holding my hand, telling me about meeting her husband before World War II.  "When I met him," she said, "he told me he went and told his Mama that he was gonna marry me."  She proceeded to tell me more of her story, one that was no doubt paramount in her mind and one she must have thought about a great deal.  She had the time.

While we were talking, another white-haired woman wheeled over to me, got right up to me and wagged her finger at me: "I know you.  I've known you for 50 years!"

"You have?," I said.

"I certainly have."

"It's good to see you again."  I had never seen the woman.  Yet I've learned that you cannot counter the power of a memory held by someone who lives in memories.

"I own it all."

"You do?"

"Everything you see.  I own every bit of it."

"Wonderful."  I was still holding Cassie's hand.  "Thank you for having me here."

Florence, a well-dressed woman who sat bolt upright in her chair, asked me to pray for her.  I took her hand.  "Florence, how can I pray for you?" 

"For my health. I have some problems."  I prayed for her too.  I felt like a pretend preacher.  Did they know how little I knew?

I had been asked to this nursing home to "preach."  I don't know a lot about preaching, but I think they'll take anyone here.  When I arrived and the residents were wheeled in, I asked one African-American man, one of the only men in the room, if he'd let me know if I did OK.  He said he'd hold his hand up if I preached too long or if he didn't care for it.  I watched him.  He didn't do that.  He didn't smile either.  Afterwards, I asked him how I did.  He said it was alright.  He still didn't smile.

I tried to speak to all of the residents who were there, and touch them.  I came because I can imagine how lonely they can be, how much a visit from someone. . . anyone. . . is cherished.  My mother, who died last Fall, was in just such a place for about two years.  I wish she hadn't been.

Don't think me virtuous.  Driving down here, a little voice in my head said that nothing I said to these old folks would be remembered, that whatever little I did wouldn't matter.  These are folks on the margin of society who have nothing to offer you, the voice said.  Why are you wasting your time like this?  I don't usually speak to demons, but I spoke to that one then, telling it to leave me alone.  It may have, but its questions echoed in my mind.  The truth is that my immediate impulse on entering a nursing home is to flee from its sights, sounds, and smells.  I don't deserve them.

They are frail in body and sometimes in mind.  And while they can't stroke my ego, they remind me by their very frailness that our earthly tent is merely a shadow of our heavenly one.  I look around me and realize I am surrounded by the images of God --- human beings whose memories resonate with the truth of what matters, of what lies beyond the perishable: love and home.

She owns it all.  Maybe in truth she does --- in Christ she is heir of all things: "Now you are no longer a slave but God's own child. And since you are his child, everything he has belongs to you" (Gal. 4:7, NLT).  So even the dementia that fuels the ranting of this woman who yells at me is the voice of God speaking to me, telling me that He has given me everything.

When the last resident was taken away, I walked down the hall, out, and into the afternoon sun.  I had  a fresh sense of the poverty of my busyness, the emptiness of a task-oriented life, and the nearness of eternity.

And maybe I began to grasp that I own it all, too.

Why "Things" Matter (Even Boats)

I am a boat owner.  Ten years ago I decided to buy a 19-foot Grady White Tournament for cruising and playing in the intracoastal waterway, sound, and ocean.  I envisioned day trips to coastal towns, kids skiing and being pulled on floats, and (though I do not fish) maybe even a little fishing.  Indeed there were such times, just not enough of them.  There is the old adage that the two best days in a boat owner's life are the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it.  I'm selling.

But this is not a thinly-veiled advertisement for my boat but a study of loss.  While both my wife and I agree that parting with this boat is a good, economically-wise move, we both had a sense of loss.  Dwelling on that emotion, I realize that the loss we sense is not so much that of the boat itself but the memories it carries.  The boat, in the end, became more obligation than joy, as in "I guess we need to run the boat a little," uttered with a dutiful sigh, one more possession to steward.  The boat is a cultural artifact; the culture, our family.  Borrowing from Andy Crouch's book, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, we say that these artifacts have, over time, "become part of the framework of the world. . . .," my world, my family's world.  That money pit of a boat made possible shared experiences that were unique to it.  We ran aground together, puttered around the channel, and, on the best days, lit our for the ocean, a lake of dreams.

While it is certainly prudent to live life holding lightly to our possessions, pruning away the excess by selling or giving away that which threatens to weigh us down, it's also true that not all "things" need finally, in the end, be disposed of.  Some have iconic status --- not to be worshipped but to be seen through, as it were, to the memories that form part of who we are.

I can't keep the boat for that reason alone.  There are other compelling considerations.  A picture will have to do.  But seeing through it, I'm warmed by a vision of a family together, at play, leaving memories in our wake, wave upon wave of which will ripple through the years ahead and even, as far as I know, reach a new heaven and earth.  Nothing good is ever really lost but, rather, stored up in eternity.

I can't make my children young again, recreate those times when our lives focused almost entirely around each other.  They grow up.  We do too.  A family's culture, after all, matures, pulls up anchor and moves on.  Boats find new owners.

But I could buy another boat someday, make new memories.

Oh no, here we go again. . .

Wide Awake

In the last few weeks, I have apparently entered a period of wakefulness at night, something I have been plagued with from time to time.  I am a light sleeper, I guess.  If the alarm clock light is too bright, I might awake.  The cat jumping on the bed may also do the trick.  Thunder will rouse me.  Maybe even a sigh from a child.  I don't usually stay awake, thankfully, but return to sleep fairly quickly.  In these times, nighttime can be just a series of naps, strung end to end. Sometimes I am sleepy the next day; often, I am not.

I've wondered why this is, even read about it, and I can't pin it on anything.  It comes, it goes. Like the wind.  Like the Spirit.

When I'm lying there for what few minutes I may be conscious, I sometimes do wonder if God has awoken me, if there is something I need pray about or maybe something I need to get up and do. Praying can be difficult, but I try, a kind of stream of consciousness, meandering and vague.  I wonder if God thinks it's like listening to a sleepy child, one trying desperately to wring one more minute out of the day but fading quickly, sliding into nonsense babble.  When my son was young he talked to keep himself awake, often to himself, falling asleep mid-sentence.  Maybe my babbling is what "praying in the Spirit" really is --- sensible only to God who hears the heart even when the lips speak gibberish.

Perhaps because of such punctuated rest, I remember more dreams.  In the last few weeks, I have been in a plane crash, narrowly missed being struck by a train which jumped its tracks and barreled down the yard beside my house, and suffered a home invasion.  A few nights ago a few large oak trees in my backyard uprooted themselves and walked away while I watched.  Eerie.  It'd be nice to talk about that, in the moment so to speak, but everyone is asleep, even the cats, though I nudge one with my foot to see if I can get a response.  No, just dead weight.

Sometimes I think I should get up and do something productive with the time, like balance the checkbook.  Likely that wouldn't be wise.  Or write letters, unintelligible though they may be.  But I don't.  I just lie there enjoying the quiet, the accentuated noises of the night.  Cicadas.  Now and then the creak of a settling house.  The faithfulness of the heat pump, coming on and turning off all night while we sleep, because we asked it to.  The sound of my breath.  The beating of my heart.  Rain on the roof, wind in the chimney.

I get up and look out the window at the street outside bathed in streetlight, see the neighbor's cat walk sleepily across the street.  I wonder if it has insomnia too?

I used to tell my children that there was nothing to be afraid of at night, that everything is in the same place as in daylight, only dark.  I don't think they believed me.

To think --- some people who sleep all night without awakening never get this pleasure, never know what they're missing.  Lucky me.


Her College Preview (and Mine)

One thing that is plainly apparent to me this college preview weekend is that the preview my daughter is getting, that is, the one she is interested in, is not the preview I am getting.  And that's OK.  I have to understand that it's really OK.

The first clue came when we arrived in the quaint mountain town of Lookout Mountain, Georgia.  The streets are right out of fairy tales.  There's Cinderella Drive, Elfin Lane, and the one on which we move, Red Riding Hood Trail.  It brought a big smile to her face.  Now I would never have thought to relate this fantasy land to a good college preview weekend.  It's a frolic for her, people, Red Riding Hood dancing her way into the college grounds, and me, I'm thinking about all the big bad wolves of academic majors, financing this experience, and keeping my daughter safe.  Irrelevant to her.  People are what matter.  God bless her.  We are so different.

And all of this is OK, I tell myself.  She is not me and I am not her, as if that was not painfully obvious. With me it's A+B=C, with her it's A+B+F+ (maybe G) times 8 = A PARTY.  What is the fun factor? And yet I have to believe that underneath the social factor is a desire to do and be something.

The truth is I want to go back to school, more than she wants to go.  So much to learn, so much to read, so much to write, and the luxury of focusing solely on learning.  Or, in her words, so many people to meet, so many fun things to do, so much freedom, and Dad to pay for the whole thing.  Does it get any better than this?

But it's a preview, that's for sure, and the truth is it will impact her in ways I won't be able to understand until later, if then, might not even hear from her mouth.  And yet to see her smile and walk off with a group of students, to watch her "try on" the independence of college --- well that's enough, isn't it?  I'm really OK about all this. . . .

On Your Graduation (And Mine)

[No one has ever asked me to speak to a graduating class of high school seniors, and I don't really want to do that, but I have thought about what I might say to them if I were asked.  A few years ago, I did the same thing, only then I did not have a graduating senior.  I do now.  Looking back at what I wrote then, it seems a bit preachy and wordy.  I like this better.]

Here you are, finally.  Did you think this day would never come?  I know that you're sitting here with a mixture of excitement, anxiety, and impatience, but bear with me.  I only have five things to say.  Here goes.

Life is broken, but all is not lost.  You know what I mean.  Lots of things are screwed up, from oil spills to wars to bad hair to lousy days when you can't even figure out what's wrong or why a blue funk has come over you.  You know it wasn't meant to be this way. Sometimes you feel like someone left you standing on a street corner without a full set of instructions.  Yes, it's broken, under a kind of curse ever since Adam and Eve decided to eat the fruit.  And yet something else is happening.  The curse is being undone.  Pay attention and you'll see it --- in a smile, in a friend, in someone who does something for you for nothing, nothing at all. If you focus on all the bad, pretty soon you won't be able to see anything else.  So focus on what's good, true, and beautiful, and pretty soon that's what you'll naturally be predisposed to see.

Live where you live, not where you think you want to live.  In a world of immediate accessibility, when you google anything and anyone, it's easy to want to be somewhere else, to live virtually.  But when Jesus walked the streets and hills of Palestine, he didn't wish he was anywhere else.  He grew up there.  He ate meals there.  He fished.  He preached.  He never went more than 100 miles from his home.  So with you. Like the Jews in exile, don't pine for somewhere else, for home, or for the next thing, but settle in and live and love where you are.  That may be your college, a town far from home, or it may be right here.  Find the beauty of the place where you find yourself.  You'll be a lot more content and better able to bless those around you if you do.

Cut the crap.  Look around you.  Your classmates are the best crap-detectors you have.  They know when you're suckin' up to teachers or not being yourself.  They know religious talk from true spirituality.  There are a lot of people-pleasers in the world and in the church, people who say all the right words because it's expected of them, or because they want to fit in.  Don't.  The church needs people who will speak the truth in love.  You need friends who won't tell you what you want to hear or what they think you want to hear but what you need to hear, who'll call you out if need be.  The Bible says "let your yes be yes and your no be no."  See that you do.

Have the right passion.  You'll meet a lot of people who are passionate about a lot of things: vegetarianism, running, film, music, food, sex, and so on.  You name it and you will find a group to advocate it, brand it, and market it.  It all goes to show that we were meant to have a passion --- only people will fill it, fill that void, however they can.  Ask God to give you a passion for Him.  Then ask him to reveal His vision for you.  There is something only you can do.  So pray hard.  Nag God.  Be the persistent widow who won't stop until you get what you came for.  In all of that begging, wondering, and hoping just remember this:  YOU are His passion.  Not only does He love you, He likes you --- not the petty you but the you He made in His image, the one He's transforming you into thank God.

Don't be afraid.  Fear is paralyzing and often unfounded, and most of what we fear never comes to pass and the things we don't have time to fear may be the things that actually come to pass.  You don't know how you'll manage college, life, or love, but He does.  The only antidote for fear is faith.  Take God at His word.  Ask him to increase your faith.  Act not on the fear you may feel but on the promises of the God you know.  The Bible is replete with people who did the unthinkable and the unlikely, from a quivering Moses who went before the most powerful man in the world to ask that he let his people go to a shepherd boy who went up against a giant to a once cowardly Christ-denier on whom Jesus built his church.  If God is with you, nothing can prevail against you.

There's a lot more I could say, but you'll hear all that and more from someone else.  Now as you're sitting there, uncomfortable and hot in those robes, with those ridiculous boards on your heads, you're probably thinking when will this old guy shut up.  Well, I had to say it.  You see, I'm graduating too. Everything I said to you I'm still working on.  Some kids are on a five-year plan; I'm on a life plan. Graduation is gradual.  Life is a university.  And God is a kind headmaster.  May He bless you, and me, on our graduation.

I Did It for Love

SCAN0002 I don't much like old things.  I was hoping for a new attitude about them, a new sense of awe and wonder and curiosity, but when my wife and I went to the antiques extravaganza today, I hadn't changed,  I still don't old things.

"Honey, I'll make you a deal on that right there.  I don't wanna wrap it and take it home.  We'll even pay the sales tax."

I don't need to bring another thing in the house, and I sure don't need more kitsch. I know, I know. It's not all like that.  There's silver, china, furniture, ornaments, baby spoons, lamps, pottery, jewelry, and so on.  I just don't need it.

"Ma'am, I need that like I need another hole in the head, deal or not.  Thanks anyway."

I'm surrounded by useless inanimate objects. Once they had utility, once they meant something to someone, but now they are just for collecting, invested with no value, no utility.  Prim and proper elderly ladies sit behind counters, surrounded by cases and cases of memorabilia, only these things are now separated from their original owners, the value they once had, sentimental or otherwise, divorced from them. Customers peer over glasses at prices, examining buttons, old keys, charms, and so on, negotiating prices.

I did find a few books.  Moll Flanders.  Alice in Wonderland.  Madame Bovary.  The History of the United Netherlands.  The Poems of Francis Thompson. ("I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;/ I fled Him, down the arches of the years;/ I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways/ Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears/ I hid from Him, and under running laughter.")  "I pleaded, outlaw-wise, please free me from this antique extravaganza." I left the Hound with Madame Bovary, who may need the Hound of Heaven given her ways, and kept walking through the aisles.  In ten minutes, I had seen all I needed to see.

Just a bunch of old stuff.  These are not, after all, the vessels of gold and silver that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and which Cyrus sent back with the Israelites when he allowed the exiles to return (Ezra 1).  They are not revered historical documents, the Book of Kells, or some other antiquity. They are ordinary things that are old, that's all --- things which people like to collect.  Like some record collectors I have known, some of these people likely have a problem, are even obsessed with collecting. Imagine what their homes look like --- cluttered dens of useless antiquities.  What neuroses lurk in these aisles.  What hidden madness.

"Alice: But I don't want to go among mad people.

The Cat: Oh, you can't help that.  We're all mad here.  I'm mad.  You're mad.

Alice: How do you know I'm mad?

The Cat: You must be. Or you wouldn't have come here.

Alice: And how do you know that you're mad?

The Cat: To begin with, a dog's not mad. You grant that?

Alice: I suppose so.

The Cat: Well, then, you see, a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased. No I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry.  Therefore I'm mad."

You follow that?  I think I'll put Alice back on the  shelf in Stall # 24, right next to Moll Flanders.  

The snack concession just closed.  Curses.

I could read the first chapter of Madame Bovary.  I might blush, so I decline.  I lean back in my chair at the table just catty-cornered from Stall #14. 

I could just watch people.  Old people and old things.  And write, all over the program, the only paper I have, blue ink against pink paper, winding verse around the stalls and down the aisles.

I paid $7 for this.  Why you ask?  

I did it for love.  I'm mad about the girl.

Children of Eden

ChildrenOfEden-small Over the last few years I've been treated to a number of drama productions courtesy of my children.  Some were outstanding school or church productions; some, not so outstanding --- but of course I went.  They are my children!  However, their latest venture is something quite different.

NorthBend Productions’ Broadway Arts Conservatory in partnership with Wake Forest Baptist Church’s Virginia Tull Fine Arts Series is presenting a spectacular all youth production of Children of Eden. Directed by Broadway veteran George Merritt, the youth cast represents 34 different schools (public, private and homeschool students) and 25 different churches from across the Triangle.   The production is professional quality, family-friendly entertainment --- something you can't say about all such productions.
Children of Eden, from Stephen Schwartz (“Godspell” and “Pippin”) and John Caird of “Les Misérables”, is a joyous and inspirational musical about parents, children and faith... not to mention centuries of unresolved family business!  Based loosely on the story of Genesis, the story is a frank, heartfelt and often humorous examination of the age-old conflict between parents and children. Adam, Eve, Noah and the “Father” who created them deal with the headstrong, cataclysmic actions of their respective children. The show ultimately delivers a bittersweet but inspiring message that "the hardest part of love... is letting go."

This is really an outstanding production.  You can see it at Wake Forest Baptist Church on Sunday, January 18th at 3:00 (tickets $15 at the door), or you can see it next weekend at Fletcher Hall, a great 600 seat venue adjacent to Memorial Auditorium in downtown Raleigh.  For ticket information, visit the web page here.  I hope to see you there.

For Rumination

book While on occasion I find it helpful when blogs I read cite other blogs, usually I prefer something more substantive from the blogs I read.  But then, on occasion I violate that rule.  I'm doing that now, and yet I hope that it's more than just a collection of cites, as I give it some content.

  • In light of my recent trilogy of posts paying tribute to vinyl records (see Vinyl Pleasures Parts 1, 2, and 3), Kristin Chapman cites a recent Pew study that says that 82% of consumers still prefer old-fashioned CDs.  Her own post indicates that she prefers downloading because "it’s fast, easy, and I only have to purchase the songs I like rather than getting stuck with all the songs on a CD."  Just my point!  How do you know what you like unless you listen more deeply and patiently?  Songs in major keys with bright, sunny chorus are ear candy --- they immediately captivate us.  Other songs that are denser, more complex, or in minor keys do not usually have such immediate magnetism and yet may hold greater treasure.  Technology is shaping our listening habits and not for the better.  She's asking for comments, so give her one here.
  • In "Creative Collaboration," Jill Carattini gives us a meditation on the communal nature of the creative process, noting that "creativity in all its forms--even in the simplest acts of living and acting--is inherently an interactive process."  She links that observed truth to the doctrine of the trinity, in that the act of creation was, for God, a communal project --- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  For more on this, read Dorothy Sayers' Mind of the Maker, and consider the great songwriting partnerships which have existed, like Rogers and Hammerstein, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Lennon and McCartney, and the Sherman Brothers.  The Sherman Brothers?  Yes.  Two very funny guys who wrote the memorable songs from Mary Poppins and other Disney movies.  A very funny and enlightening insight into their creative process is contained in an interview at the end of the soundtrack for the movie, in its 2004 enhanced, special edition reissue.  Wouldn't you like to know how they came up with "Supercalifragilisticexpealidotious?"  It's like listening to the Car Talk brothers.  I will say that the most creative times I have enjoyed when writing have been when I had a nice balance of reflection and interaction, of being alone and of being with people.  But this just isn't for creative people (for artists) but is an idea that carries over to all of life.  We need both solitude and community.  And by the latter I mean face time, not virtual interaction.  Somehow, in these times, we have ended up with a dearth of both.
  • Max McLean writes about how much fun it was to play the devil in the dramatic adaptation of C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, which has played in both Washington, DC and New York.  The inverted world of the book takes some getting used to, but this literary strategy helps, us does all good art, in telling the truth in a subtle, indirect way and thereby sharpening our understanding of it.  As McLean summarizes: "The Screwtape Letters is a metaphor for one of Lewis’s basic theological ideas. As described in Mere Christianity, this world is “enemy-occupied territory.” Screwtape may be the ruling demon in one district. He has ruled effectively for many centuries with “unbroken success.” By exposing him, Lewis hopes to free other would-be patients from his grasp by escaping into the loving arms of the demon’s “Enemy.” The most recent run of the play was sold out, but you can see a video segment of the performance.  Let's hope it has another run.
  • It's Bob Dylan's 67th birthday today, and Craig Burrell offers a little tribute here with a video of his 1964 performance of "Chimes of Freedom" at the Newport Folk Festival.  This reminds me that I have bootleg recordings of a concert he did in Toronto during his "gospel period," with gospel singers, preaching, and more.  Wow.  Can you imagine how fans would have felt?  They often booed him.  Listen to what he said about that: "Years ago they... said I was a prophet. I used to say, 'No I'm not a prophet' and they'd say 'Yes you are, you're a prophet.' I said, 'No it's not me.' They used to say 'You sure are a prophet.' They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say 'Jesus Christ is the answer.' And they say, 'Bob Dylan's no prophet.' They just can't handle it.By the way, I'm not one to question whether he is still a Christian.  I think the "gospel period," when his songs were more blatantly spiritual, was just a confessional phase he passed through.  He's never disavowed his faith.  Perhaps the second volume of his autobiography, Chronicles, to be released later this year, will enlighten us.  But don't count on it.
  • In a recent post, I told you about an upcoming missions trip I am taking with my family to Kaihura, Uganda.  The mission, called Embrace Uganda, now has a blog.  I'm not sure how active the blog will be, as I did not create it, but at least it will provide some basic information about the trip.  You can access the website or blog to keep up with planning for our trip.  And you can (please) pray for us!

Well, enough ruminations!  Maybe some of the above will give you food for thought or action.  Enjoy the Memorial Day weekend, and yet remember that the day is a memorial.  Perhaps these words of Abraham Lincoln, part of his Gettsburg Address, will help you: 

Washington_DC_D1-61 "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

A Gallimaufry


Now there's a word you can use everyday, right?  It simply is a literary way of saying hodgepodge or jumble, which is what this post of miscellany is all about:

  • Great Books:  if you want to read some classic great books, and then would like someone to help you understand what you just read, you may be interested in the Great Books program sponsored by Breakpoint, a ministry of Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship.  Every month you'll read a different classic book, beginning with C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, and then on to The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (which has already licked me once), and Augustine's Confessions.  You get a CD each month by Ken Boa which contains a summary of the important themes, key quotes, and applications.  I'm giving it a shot.  Care to join me?  Sign up here.


  • Bible Study:  I'm a Bible Study Fellowship flunkie.  I just couldn't keep up with the work and chafed under the rules.  I need more grace.  I think Finding Purpose, a ministry to men here in Raleigh, may be just the thing to get me back into regular Bible study (as opposed to its devotional use, or simply reading it, which comes easier).  A friend of mine, Russ Andrews, directs this ministry, founding it after leaving his job as a Broker for Triangle Securities and getting an M.Div from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  It meets for 22 weeks, on Tuesday nights, at Edenton Street United Methodist Church.  There's a short lecture and then a small group study.  And homework.  We'll be studying John.  If you want to get on board, be quick about it.  Email Robert Boone here if interested.


  • A Literary Bible:  I'm intrigued by a new study Bible being released on September 25th.  Entitled The Literary Bible, this ESV edition focuses on the literary style of the Bible.  According to the short description the publisher posts, "The ESV Literary Study Bible approaches the Bible as literature and shows how the application of literary tools of analysis helps tremendously in reading and understanding the Bible. Readers are introduced to the literary features of each book of the Bible and to each section within each book. While traditional Bibles are reference books, this is truly a reader’s Bible. The format and commentary make it ideal for private devotional reading, for preachers and Bible teachers, and for use in group Bible studies."  You can read a 16-page brochure on it here, and pre-order it here.  I plan on getting one, as I would appreciate this not new but needed perspective on the text.


  • Amaze Friends With Word Power.  I've enjoyed the RSS feed from this web site, which sends you a word each day.  Where do you think gallimaufry came from?  Some are useful, some funny, and some completely and totally useless because you can't use them in conversation or you'll sound like a nerd.


  • A Literary Weekend.  I have to get to this conference next April and I want to go to this one too when it rolls around again.  Oh what will I do?  I'm not  a conference kind of person but I'd really like to attend these.  I want to to meet that talented wierdo Sufjan Stevens and speak to author Mischa Berlinski.  Care to go?


  • Ramson Upgrade:   Ransom Fellowship's website has had a major upgrade.  I enjoy Denis Haack's discerning mind (and taste in music) and wife Margie's humor.  A Francis Schaeffer protege, Haack covers films, books, and controversial issues and knows how to ask the right questions even though he doesn't have all the answers.

And that's quite enough gallimaufry for one evening.

How I'm Spending My Summer: An Update on Pending Projects

Though you well know that I have had a vacation this Summer (one that seems a distant memory now), I have been working on some other projects as well.  Here's an update on what is happening:

Ruth_graham_jacket_frontRuth Bell Graham: Celebrating An Extraordinary Life --- With the recent death of Ruth Bell Graham (wife of Billy Graham), publisher Thomas Nelson has decided to reissue a project that my partner and I in Stone Table Media developed and released three years ago as A Pilgrim Journey.  This is a three-CD audio biography of Ruth, including interviews with Ruth, family members, close friends (like writers Patricia Cornwall and Jan Karon), and others.  It includes music, sound effects, readings of poetry written by Ruth, and narration by veteran newscaster and longtime Graham friend Walter Cronkite.  The product should be in stores (including Barnes and Noble) sometime in the next two weeks, but for now the original project is still available here or on Amazon.  Truly Ruth had an amazing life and is an extraordinary woman

AtcotumainbAdmiral Twin: The Center of the Universe --- The Pop Collective, the record label my partners and I founded, will release it's second full-length recording on September 18th.  Here's what the press copy says about these boys: "Admiral Twin is an alternative pop-rock trio that hails from Tulsa, OK and is well known for their harmony-infused, three-minute rock explosions and eccentric pop experimentation. The band has built a large and loyal following with four previous independent releases. The Center of the Universe is their first release with The Pop Collective and features the singles “In My Veins” and “Good as Gold,” with a sound that ranges from Fountains of Wayne to The Beatles to Cheap Trick."  OK, so that's a little hype but, honestly, these Oklahoma boys are good.  You can read the promo one-sheet Admiral Twin Hype, visit the band's website here, or watch the website of The Pop Collective for further details.  But just to tease you, here's a full-length MP3 of "In My Veins" from the upcoming release: In My Veins.

Scaheffer_2Tapestry: Edith and Francis Schaeffer & the Ministry of L'Abri --- After concluding the Ruth Bell Graham project, my partner and I launched another audio biography telling the story of Edith and Francis Schaeffer, influential founder of the L'Abri Ministry in Switzerland and now worldwide.  Last summer we conducted interviews of the Schaeffer family and L'Abri workers in Cambridge, Oxford, and Huemoz (Switzerland), and we tentatively plan to return to these places for further interviews and the gathering of photos, audio, and memorabilia in September.  Our goal is to marry a short book to the audio version of this production.  There is much to do.  You can learn more on our blog for the project here (though it sorely needs updating soon.)

And that's how I'm spending my Summer thus far.

Screwtape, Bridge to Terabithia & Vox

Last Sunday I had the privilege of particpating in an installation service for our senior pastor, Andy. I gave a charge to the congregation rooted in a "new" Screwtape letter. I've used the technique in such a charge before, but wrote a new letter for use here. I think I'll retire this technique, much as I love it, for another four to five years.

I saw the new Bridge to Terabithia movie with my wife and 12-year old daughter Monday. I thought it excellently done. It tells of the relationship between two 12-year old kids, a girl and a boy, both on the outside at school, and shows loving if imperfect families. There are a lot of good things to talk about here --- the nature of God, what is true friendship, dealing with grief (there is a tragedy in the film), dealing with bullies, and sibling relations --- and many good moral qualities conveyed, such as loving your enemies, kindness to younger siblings, loyalty, the value of the imagination, and so on. A word of caution: the fact that it has a real tragedy and a not warm and fuzzy ending may be a bit too much for some kids. My daugther did not like its ending, but she was not deeply affected by it either. My son, who is 15, would have hated it. He dislikes sad films and books and is very emotional. Read a review here. Katherine Peterson, the author, is a Christian, and went to my wife's junior high school (and dealt with a bully there), Wiley Junior High, in Winston-Salem, NC. There's a good interview with Peperson and other cast members here, but be forewarned, it is a spoiler. Paterson's website has some good background.

I've tapped into the blog for Seattle church Mars Hill Church, a very contemporary church. I like the print magazine they publish, Vox, and some of their innovations.

Why Don't We Throw It In the Road? (or What I Found On I-40 One Night)

GeneratorThis evening my family and I had a close brush with a serious accident.  We had visited family in Greensboro, North Carolina, and had just gotten back onto I-40 East, heading towards Winston-Salem.  Going about 60 mph, a large object suddenly appeared in the road.  I could do nothing to avoid and, in hindsight, I am glad I did not try.  There were cars on both sides of me.  I hit it, and it apparently lodged under the front of the car.  I drug it for about a quarter mile, sparks flying, until I could get off the side of the road.  After pulling over on a soft shoulder, we felt the object go under us.  We came to a stop.  I was thankful the gas tank wasn't perforated or, worse, blow up, and that we did not throw the object into the path of another vehicle.

When I got out of the car, I found the object about 10 feet behind us.  It appeared to be a Honda generator, certainly some type of motor, at least two to two and one-half feet tall.  Wow.  I looked under the car and couldn't see any leakage, or any smoke.  The largely plastic front molding was torn quite a bit.  We got in the car and drove about a mile to an exit where we pulled over at a convenience store.  We took a better look under the car, as the car, though drivable, was making an odd noise.  We noticed that a cross-beam in the undercarriage was seriously dented in, and I felt there could be other damage I could not see.

Based on this, I decided not to drive it any more.  I called AAA and had it towed 4 miles to a Ford dealership.  Thankfully, I had family in town.  I called my stepfather and had him pick me up and take me to the airport about 3 miles away where I rented a car, drove back to the damaged car where my wife and son were waiting.  The tow truck came about 1 hour 20 minutes after my call.  All in all this set us back about 3 hours, but I am thankful that I was not in my Mini Cooper, that no one was hurt, and that we removed the dangerous object from the highway.

Now, I call the insurance company.  Oh boy.

I don't know where the offending object came from.  I did not see it fall off a truck.  When I pulled over, I notice a pickup truck pulled to the side of the road with a man and a woman standing looking back a the road.  I pointed out the generator to him, but he said he didn't drop it but was just stopped because he thought he saw something in the road.  He left abruptly, driving away.  It's possible he dropped it.

I occasionally complain about my wife driving a gas guzzling SUV, but tonight I was thankful for it.  My experience makes me think twice about taking a small car on the highway.  It's dangerous out there!

The God With a Plan

PlanToday, on an absolutely beautiful Saturday, my wife and I and 9th grade son stayed in a room with 80 people for six hours and engaged in what was termed "appreciative inquiry," with a facilitator from Gordon College.  This is the initial part of a planning process for our children's Christian school, and I confess we all were reluctant to go but dutifully drug ourselves out of bed and made our way there nonetheless. (Do you detect a complaining spirit?)

I'm not too keen on planning or touchy-feely sessions in small groups where you share experiences with people you sometimes don"t know that well.  When we arrived, after the usual donuts and drink and chat and introductions, we were seated in small groups of six, none of whom could be a family member, and we were to interview the person next to us who would describe to us a learning success story, either in his life or someone else's life.  Then, roles were reversed and we became the interviewee.  After that, we reported to the group on our interviewee, and a clerk wrote down lessons learned from this.  After that, as a group we had to distill the points to three central points and post these on a wall, beside others.  Then, each of the eighty persons was able to mark up to five stars on any combination of points on the wall.  While we had lunch, a few people distilled these points into seven of the most popular items.  Next, we spent time as a group talking about how these seven principles could play out in several areas, like spiritual formation, parental involvement, board leadership, and so on.  Next, each of us individually came up with an "offer," that is, what we would be willing to do to facilitate action on any one item.

Surely this has some merit, but I do not know how much.  I have been involved in planning processes in the past, and produced some logical and beautiful plans, only to see the plans shelved because events overtake the organization or there are changes that are so significant that the plans no longer seem to make sense.  Mostly, we are too busy living --- doing what has to be done each day --- to pull the plan out and ask if we're meeting our goals and objectives.  So, I'm ambivalent about the whole process.

What assurance it is to read Jeremiah 29:11, where God gives a promise to His people in exile: "' For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"  If God has a plan, surely if we image God, we plan, trying to think His thoughts after Him.  What was His plan?  He told them to build houses, settle down, plant gardens, marry, have children, seek peace, and so on.  And what does Job say to God but "no plan of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2).  And finally, Proverbs 14:22 says "those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness," as opposed to plotting evil, but that seems to be an orientation rather than a plan.  And that right there is about the only times the word "plan" ever shows up in the Bible.  That doesn't mean people didn't plan things.  Solomon surely planned things in regard to the building of the temple, but there's not much emphasis on planning. There is a lot of attention to maintaining a close relationship to God so as to be sensitive to the promptings of His Spirit.

I'm not convinced about planning.  Perhaps our time would have been better spent by sharing concerns about the school and praying for a considerable time.  Just point me in the right direction (God-ward) and encourage me to keep walking.   That may be enough.  God has a plan.  I just need to start walking.