Friday, January 27, 2006

Baldwin's crusade....

Last night, as I was flipping through the channels during halftime of the basketball game I was watching, I came across an interview on what I think was MSNBC with actor, and now "born-again" Christian, Stephen Baldwin. Now, I had heard some time ago that Baldwin had become one of the Body, had worked on some stuff with Christian skateboarders, and had even done some stuff with worldwide evangelist, Luis Palau. To me, that was pretty cool. Not so much that his celebrity and whatever would bring such glory to God, for God is so much bigger than all of that and, let's face it, Stephen Baldwin's celebrity is more about being Alec's brother than a great actor. Anyone see Bio-Dome?

But the interview was not in regards to any of those things. Instead, Baldwin is now making headlines for protesting the opening of an adult bookstore within a mile or so radius of his home. He is arguing on the basis that crime will rise, property values will lower, and several other such activities will occur with the genesis of this store. So, Mr. Baldwin's plan? Videotape and photograph the license plates of all cars that solicit this business. Then, he intends to take out an advertisement in the newspaper, publishing the names of all employees and customers of said establishment.

Now, I agree that Mr. Baldwin has a right to his opinion. Even the police have stated that he is not legally doing anything illegal, that he has a right to his opinion. I also agree with Mr. Baldwin that pornography is a bad thing and can bring some difficulties and problems along with it. I have dealt with pornography in the past and understand the dangers of it firsthand. My biggest issue then, is not with Mr. Baldwin's thinking. My issue lies with his actions. The anchor of the show kept referring to his faith, his being "born again", and all things in between. Is this how we as Christians want to be represented? As those crusading against people rather than the sin itself? Baldwin's actions speak far more of judgment and self-righteousness than they do the love and care of Jesus. Would Jesus have protested, calling out each and every individual by name and berating them publicly? Or, would our Jesus have entered into relationship with them, not justifying their sin but instead bringing them to a place where the lights could come on, where they could see the truth themselves, and still be affirmed as individuals and creatures of God?

Read a quick bit of the story here: Stephen Baldwin's Porn Crusade

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Puking on the Nebuchadnezzar....

Recently, I've found myself indentifying more and more with Keaunu Reeve's character, Neo, in the Matrix Trilogy. Most recently, I've envisioned myself in the early portion of the story, as Neo is being inundated with information that runs entirely counter to all that he's ever known. He's shown that the world is not at all what it has appeared to be. There is more to life, as he's always expected, yet the path to get there is not a pleasant one. In fact, it's downright strange.

In addition to the path, there are all of the realities that he is forced to work out in short order. The information is slamming into his mind, filling it up, and making it seem as though his head will explode. Eventually, Neo stumbles out, somewhat staggering, and falls to the floor of the Nebuchadnezzar and vomits. Yup, that's me right now.

I have been devouring books, blogs, and podcasts as much as I can. I've been wrestling with new thoughts, new challenges, and old one's as well. My mind feels as though I've jammed more into it than it can ever possibly figure out. One some level, I realize that not all that is jammed up in there is of critical importance. Yet, I also know that much of it is. Perhaps the most difficult part of the process is that I feel confident in the path in which I'm heading. I feel as though this segment of the path that I'm on is truly being shown to me by Jesus, and that He's leading me where He wants me to be. I just don't know how to react to it sometimes.

I know that it will all work out in the end. I know that I'm trying to keep Jesus at the forefront of my thoughts and that, as I sort through all of these thoughts and challenges and questions and truth and lies that He will illuminate the things I am to focus on. I also know that some of my reaction to this is his way of purging me of myself, of forcing me to abandon myself and seek out the filling of Him. I just hope some of it starts to make some sense soon...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Deaths and Legacies...

The other day my mentor's father died of a sudden heart attack. It wasn't very unexpected, the idea of his passing, due to his age and a battle with prostate cancer that he'd been waging. Either way though, the death hit home. Prior to that, we've gone to two other funerals recently. The first was for a one of my wife's very good friend's mom. It was truly a heartbreaking thing to watch our friend break in grief over the loss of her mother.

The second was the funeral for my wife's grandmother. I sat in the pew at that particular service and allowed thoughts to ramble through my mind. The first thought I had was how odd funerals really are. There are, hopefully, a few people there and everyone is commenting on how "good" the deceased looks. It's almost disturbing that the comparison is drawn from the waxen body laying prostrate in the casket to the vibrant, living soul who we once knew. But I suppose that is how we are to act.

The second thought was one that is not so new as it is simple and profound. I asked myself as I listened to the eulogies that were brought and the kind words that were said what sort of legacy I hope to leave. The question formed in my thoughts, "What would someone say about me at my funeral?"

It's a frightening question, really. It makes us examine how we've really lived our lives. Have we really loved well? Have we spent our time right? Have we invested ourselves in the things that matter?

I hope I have and yet know that there is still so much improvement to be made. Each day brings a renewed understanding of my depravity and another challenge to tackle. Each day a new issue arises that calls to me, luring me away from spending my time in a truly honorable fashion.

May we learn now so that we may truly rest then.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A New Me at the Wal-Mart...

I finally finished reading Thomas Merton's book, The Sign of Jonas, the other day. One of the most insightful things Merton shares toward the end of the work is a sense of thanksgiving for the death of who he was. He shares that he has died from the person who wrote one of his earlier books, to the person who initially entered into the monastic novitiate, and from the person who took solemn vows not so long ago. He is thankful for these changes and for these deaths that have occurred within himself. Each has brought him closer to truly understanding Christ and of fully living in His Presence.

I resonated with that idea and got to thinking about whether or not I've changed, or, as he puts it, have really died. On some levels, I'd say that yes, I have. I'm definately not the person I was ten years ago and am even not the same person I was even two to three years ago. My perspectives, ideas, and even concept of God have changed a lot in that simple span of time. But, inside of me, I really questioned, at least for a moment, whether these thoughts, these ideas, were genuinely having any influence on me. They certainly have not stopped the flood of questions that come to mind and I still wrestle with many, many issues. Have I changed?

Enter the wonderful world of Wal-Mart. Now, I have some friends who are pretty anti Wal-Mart for varying reasons but I have yet to see the Wal-Mart movie yet and cannot weigh in on these issues. I needed some stuff. Wal-Mart was nearby. Ergo we go to Wal-Mart.

Here's the trick. It was on a Saturday. Around noon. Not the wisest decision I have ever made, that's for sure. It was madness. I ended up parking at the very back of the parking lot in order to avoid the craziness and potential accidents just waiting to happen as people circled, frantic, in search of the perfect front-row parking space. Upon entering the store, noise and confusion greeted my ears and mind. People and carts were going here and there, piling up on goods and sighing in frustration as they were made to wait in line. I took my time, found the items I needed, and soon went to get in line. Now, it took a while to get all of my stuff and all but as I stood in line waiting for the two customers ahead of me, two things came to mind.

The first was an acute sadness for the frantic pace that many of these people were leaving their lives by. The lady in front of me, exasperated, kept running to and fro, grabbing items she'd forgotten while she left her eight year old son there to man the cart. The look on her face told of a pace of life that was surely not healthy, nor right. As I looked to my left and right, I saw my fellow customers perusing the other check out lines in hopes of a quicker escape. My heart was saddened.

The second thought that occurred to me, and I give every ounce of glory to Jesus here, was that I did not have this harried spirit within me. In fact, as I'd walked through the store, I'd felt an unusual calm surround me and guide me where I needed to go. It reminded me of Neo in the Matrix films, after he's realized that he really is the one. He walks through a crowd with no thought at all, no pressure and no hurry. I praise God that for just one simple moment on a cold Saturday afternoon at the Wal-Mart, he allowed me to erect an Ebenezer stone to him and glorify him in what He is doing in my life.

Friday, January 13, 2006

On a personal note...

I'm really tired this week. Yesterday, I just let some things build up that really put me in a foul frame of mind. It's not that I didn't see some of it coming. Some of it I didn't. Some of it I realistically had no control over. The problem is that I have full control over how I react to the situation. It's not as though someone walked through my ears and into my brain, grabbed hold of the controls, and got me out of sorts. Nope, I did it all on my own.

Part of the issue seems to stem from my, and this is going to sound counter to the previous idea, growing closer to Christ. As I have sought Him, He has shown me more of myself. And I have been repulsed. I have been overcome with pain as I realize aspects of my pride, my guilt, my selfishness. I so desire to be humble, to truly understand what it means to be content with what I have and to consider all loss but gain for the cause of Jesus. But I keep stumbling so hard. I indict people whom I perceive have harmed me in some way or another. I criticize those that do the very things I do.

I'm so very tired and so desirous of His Presence. May the God of Creation draw me to Him and bring me to a place of rest.

New Year....committments...

I'm not a big New Year's person. I've never really made a traditional New Year's resolution or anything like that. But, this year seems as though it may be a pivotal one so, well, I guess I'll throw something out there. Not a list of resolutions, mind you, but, let's call them committments. Or perhaps even better, goals.

Goal #1: Read all the unread books I have in my library. I'm going to track my reading this year just for the heck of it and I really need to work my way through a bunch of books I already own!

Goal #2: Finish up my bachelor's degree, finally.

Goal #3: Take a vacation. I haven't really had one in nearly seven years, since our honeymoon. It's time for a legitimate getaway.

Goal #4: Go on a spiritual retreat, preferably to a monastery.

Goal #5: Write. And then write some more. I can't aspire to be a writer, or whatever, if I don't in fact actually discipline myself to do just that. My initial goal is to build to writing for at least a half hour a day and go from there.

Goal #6: Be intentional about developing community with others and loving and serving them as Christ.

Goal #7: Turn the television off more.

Goal #8: Experience silence and solitude more.

Goal #9: To take action against injustices in practical ways. To align myself with organizations and needs that I can take part it in order to help and serve others.

Goal #10: Love more, especially in terms of my family. To make more tangible effort to show them that I love them deeply and truly.

Well, that's a start...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Homelessness at home...

Today, I was struck by a photograph and article in our local paper, The Bradenton Herald, that just really moved, saddened, and confused me. I'd post the article and/or the pic here but they charge for that sort of thing plus, well, I just couldn't find it on their website. Let me begin by describing this haunting picture though. The photo involved a homeless person, dissheveled, almost in what appears to be a "passed-out" sort of state, laying across a bus stop bench. Ironically, the bench that he has chosen to sleep on is emblazoned with the words, "Come all you who are weary and I will give you rest - Jesus". Right below this statement is the address of a local church. It's a powerful photo.

The article itself goes on to discuss how our sister county, Sarasota, has recently been voted, by the National Homeless Coalition, one of the nation's "meanest" cities for homeless people due to a law restricting people from sleeping outdoors. Our county is now considering a similar law in effort to restrict unsanitary conditions left by those who would choose to camp in a public place.

In all honesty, this article broke my heart. Essentially what we're saying is that we realize that there are homeless in our midst but we'd rather legislate them out of sight rather than love them into our hearts and homes. We'd rather choose to lock them up, remove them from our pristine Gulfside properties, and not have to think of them. Homeless people, in our estimation, are those people that we go to support at our $200-a-plate soirees where we dress up and get all prettied up for the local press. What crap. What total and utter crap. When local organizations are willing to help the down and out, we shut them down due to concerns over the look and feel of the area. What's more important, redemption or capital? Love or money?

The sad part of this whole thing is that the situation vexes me. It makes me angry that our local consituency is even considering such a motion. Yet, I realize, I'm not that far from them. Just today, as I sat and waited at a traffic light, I consciously averted my eyes from the man who stood on the corner, brandishing a tattered sign that read: "NO WORK TODAY; HUNGRY!" What do I do in the face of such poverty? I can only give so much. Even then, I'm not sure I should. Is it my responsibility what they do once the money is out of my hands? Am I even willing to see the suffering for what it is? Am I willing to set aside my wants and desires to help someone who's truly in need?

Note: Photo found at

It's ringing in my head!

I've been reading this book by Thomas a Kempis, The Inner Life, recently and cannot get this simple line I read the other day out of my head.

He writes: "Would to God that we might spend a single day really well."

Wow. May it be so in my life today.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Thoughts on "Americanized" Christianity...

Last night, in my "leadership" class at school, I had made some comments regarding the Americanization of Christianity and my frustrations with it. To my surprise, my professor agreed and made the oh-so-true statement that America is not, was not, and never will be a "Christian" nation. While it has a heritage of people within who have been Christians and such, it is not a Christian nation.

This thinking came on the heels of an eye opening moment I had a few days ago. I was driving home from work, in route to pick up my son from preschool, and was stopped at a traffic light. Looking to the car ahead of me, I saw two bumper stickers standing loud and proud from the matte black bumper of a late model car. The first read, in small letters, "He's my peace", with a bold, loud splash of the words "Jesus Christ" in all caps below. It was quite a sticker. My eyes floated across this expanse of car behind to rest upon the next. The patriotic colors were in full display, and the image of a waving flag decorated the left portion of the sticker. It read, "We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail", quoting George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks. I sighed at the connection. He's my peace, the sticker seemed to proclaim, so much so that we can pursue and destroy those who are just like me. The next day, I listened, laying in bed, as NPR recounted a tale of Pat Robertson claiming that the illness of Prime Minister Sharon was due to his political views and actions. We will never stop claiming to know everything!?

Derek Webb, in his new album entitled, Mockingbird, sums it up nicely from my perspective in a song entitled, "A King and a Kingdom":

There are two great lies that I've heard
"The day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die"
And that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class Republican
And if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Merton responds...

The other day, I posted a rather long litany of questions, which could have gone far much longer, whose answers I find myself pondering as we enter into this new year. There are the basic concerns of career and family, friends and foes. There are also the questions that continue to haunt and cajole me of rethinking my theologies and of constantly attempting to see Jesus Christ in fresh, new ways as His word promises us. These questions have a tendency, at times anyway, to create a bit of a burden.

Well, last night I was reading a bit, still in Thomas Merton's, The Sign of Jonas, and I ran across this simple line:

"Stop asking yourself questions that have no meaning. Or if they have, you'll find out when you need to - find out both the questions and the answers."

That's pretty profound and, well, encouraging. I'm probably not going to stop asking questions but perhaps I'll start rethinking the questions in order to ask whether or not I'm asking the right questions. Hmmm...

Just while I'm at it, let me share one more jewel from Merton. He writes:

"It is a great thing when Christ, hidden in souls - and perhaps forced by the world to keep in hiding - manifests Himself unexpectedly by an unplanned expression of His presence. Then souls light up on all sides with recognition of Him and discover Him in themselves when they did not even imagine He could be anywhere. His one image is in us all, and we discover Him by discovering the likeness of His Image in one another."


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New Year thoughts Part 1: Thankfulness

I'm not traditionally a New Years kind of person. I don't really care if they're dropping a ball in Times Square or even really care to see midnight roll around. There was a time in my life when that was sort of cool, to stay up late, to hang out with a bunch of people, to cheer and kiss when the clock rang twelve, but these days, it's just not that big of a deal. On top of that, I've never been one for much consideration or reflection on the past year as such, nor one who is pandering about with a way too long list of resolutions sure to be broken in the next week or two. With all that being said, I'm going to temper myself a bit and give in, at least in some respects, for the next couple or more blogposts and allow myself a little reflection and some goals rather than resolutions.

These are some of the things I'm thankful to have learned, experienced, etc, etc, etc, in 2005:

Very glad to have Billy, ESandra, Jess, and Tim back in my life, on a more consistent basis. Our Enigma gatherings have been interesting and there is only hope for the future. On top of all of that, it's just been good to continue friendships that could have so easily fallen by the wayside.

I'm very thankful that my friends, Walter and Paula, gave birth to a wonderful, beautifully healthy child.

I'm very thankful to have established some new friendships with people like Ryan and Holly and Joey (who never returns phone calls or emails like a bum!) and Fred and Lorraine and Sarah and Theresa.

I'm very thankful for the friendship of my pal, Richard. He began first as a co-worker, then as a bit of a teacher, then a mentor, and now a friend. His friendship and tutelage have been invaluable along this current path I'm treading.

I'm thankful for new ideas and new questions that continue to bombard me and demand answers. I'm thankful for a mind that won't rest with easy answers and easy solutions to problems and queries much bigger than previously considered.

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Foggy New Year...many questions...

I awoke on New Year's Day to a morning filled with dense fog. As I wandered out to work, driving through the thick pea-soup of murkiness, I found myself thinking about how appropriate this uncertain weather truly was, metaphorically speaking. This year holds nothing certain for us. There are plenty of variables at work and many questions that may or may not be answered. Both Erin and I will complete school this year, theoretically speaking, and are unsure of what those closures will mean for us. Will one of us continue on to graduate school? Will I end up opting for the route of traditional "ministry" or will this new path I've trod for some time hold fast and bring me to new incarnations of what ministry truly is? Will our child growing in Erin's womb go easy on us and decide to go full term, or, like Tyler, decide that he or she is ready to make their arrival early? What will it mean for us to live like Jesus in this New Year, with all that we've been learning? How will we allocate our finances differently, if at all? Will we continue to live and work in this area or will we consider moving? Will I ever give in to the voices calling me to write, with the boldness to submit what I do compose to publishers? Do I have anything worth saying? How will my studies and work in the lifestyles of monasticism and spiritual disciplines affect us this year? What friends will I gain this year? What friends might I lose touch with?

There are so many questions that stand at the outset of this New Year. The answers are so uncertain. My only constant can be that Christ will lead us, that He will guide us in our every path.