February 26, 2012

Moved to "Redemption Songs"

My new blog is http://myredemptionsongs.tumblr.com/

I'm not writing on this site anymore!

July 11, 2011


Cicadas come out of the ground every thirteen years to make a terrible sound. Somewhere deep down, I know God created them with some kind of redemptive purpose, but for now, I’m convinced that their purpose—which many think is simply to mate—is actually just to make that wretched sound. I would have been okay with this noise while I was stuck working indoors at Carrabba’s Italian Grill in Green Hills, but their horrible hubristic hum invaded the restaurant for most of May. Business had been slow, even for the summer, and the cicadas were not helping.

One upside, however, to adverse conditions is that I can spend more time with the customers. The more time with customers, the more tips I make. One night, I averaged 25 percent for the whole shift—I didn’t hate that—and one of those good tips came from a table of three sitting by the bar. I must have been impressive.

They sat down. I greeted them and brought out their drinks—one decaf coffee, two regular coffees.

I brought out their bread and herb mix—fresh garlic, granulated garlic, kosher salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper, oregano, basil, parsley, and rosemary.

Then, I brought out their salads—one House salad, two Caesar salads. We talked a little bit along the way, so I found out they were with a family from Ohio. The mother and father were in their sixties, and their daughter was thirty-something. They were my second to last table, and it was about closing time. I made my typical corny jokes, and they ordered their food. I had plenty of time to talk, because the cicadas were apparently holding everyone else hostage in the parking lot—two tables was all I had.

I brought out their meals—a Penne Pasta, a Pasta Weesie, and a Pollo Rosa Maria. After they had some time to eat, the husband started in with the questions. Rarely do people ask me any questions. I’m usually the one asking them the questions. For some reason, though, people feel entitled to ask you intensely personal questions when you’re serving them at a restaurant. This is how he began:

“So where are you from, originally?” he asked.

"Originally, I'm from Calgary, Alberta.” I answered.

"Where's that?" the wife asked.

"Canada! But I've moved all over,” I added. “Moved down to Tennessee with my parents when I was eight. From eight to eighteen, I lived here, then moved to Missouri for college, in the middle of that I went overseas. Then, I went right into grad school in Kentucky."

"Kentucky?!" the dad said.

"Yeah,” I responded. Then I noticed my other table needed me. “Hey, I'll be right back, I need to check on my other table real quick."

I refilled drinks at the other table and came back.

"I went to school near Lexington, Kentucky at Asbury Seminary," I continued.

"We're from Ohio," he said in a slow, methodical voice. He tone was very calculated, especially for a causal conversation. He went talked about where they lived, and then he changed the topic. (Why do they feel the right to ask these kinds of questions?)

In a very calm and pensive manner, he paused for a long time. Then he asked, “If you could have what you desire and it worked out how you wanted it to, what would your plan be for the future?” His question took me by surprise. Why did he care what my deepest desires are for the future?

I paused for a while, and then I answered. “If it worked out how I wanted it to, then I would finish my masters degree here in Nashville over the next two years—I’m exactly half the way through the degree—and then, I want to go study in Scotland under a British Bishop named, N.T. Wright.”

“Oh, that’s amazing!” they all said, as if I told them I wanted to find a cure for cancer. They went on and on about my plan, how important it is to travel while your young, and how important it is to live adventurously while you’re able.

Then the man changed the direction of the conversation from my dreams to my theology, getting even more personal. He said, “This is a just a thought-question.” After taking a short respite, he looked to his wife and continued, “which means that it doesn’t require an answer.” At this point I had no idea where he was going with his question.

e said, “If you could change the Ten Commandments to be whatever you wanted, what would you change them to?” It was a “just-for-thought-question”, so I didn’t give an answer. I didn’t know what to say, so I asked him that same question.

He said, “I would put the forth commandment in the place of the second. Then second would be the third, the third the fourth, and so on.” The fourth commandment is “Honor your father and your mother”.

I said, “Well, what about loving other people?” He didn’t have anything to say, so I asked him another question: “If there could be only one commandment, what would it be?” He needed some time to think about it, so I brought their check.

He didn’t have an answer for several of my trips back to the table. When he finally answered, he said, “Honor your father and mother, because if you do that one, the others fall into place.”

“What about other people, though? How does loving your mother and father translate into loving other people, too?” I said.

They didn’t know, so they asked my question back to me. “I feel like I’m cheating,” I started, because someone actually asked Jesus that question—What is the greatest commandment?—and he said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.’ Then, even though the audience at that time didn’t ask, he gave them the second most important commandment—‘Love your neighbor as yourself’—and after a little while, they must have been impressed with Jesus because it says, ‘No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.’”

I ran their payment—a visa credit card. When I came back, they said, “We are so impressed by you!” Immediately, I felt proud of myself for how well I had answered.

“How old are you?” they asked.


“To be a young man with a plan and with desires is so great . . .. We’re just really impressed with you.” My head was swelling with each word, but then something interesting happened. As he talked, I realized that they misunderstood my life—they thought I was the one who was great. I gave them impression that it was me, not God. So I backpedaled.

“I just wanted to say—and I don’t mean this to be corny—but please don’t be impressed with me. Be impressed by the God who has given me so much. Not very many people were given parents like I have that taught me so much . . . .”

I not only deflected the compliment, I even gave glory to God, which must have been really impressive. My head was swelling again. The compliments eventually stopped, and they went back to Ohio. They left a nice tip.

Later, I thought about that conversation and realized my own hubris and noise. Somehow, God used those cicadas to give me a chance to learn that if I really wanted to glorify him, I wouldn’t need to deflected anything; people wouldn’t be impressed with me. Instead, I would have spoken in such a way that unmistakably gave God the credit. I didn't--I talked about my accomplishments, my dreams, and myself, leaving tag-on credits for the end. I gave lip service to God, only because I got caught being impressive, when I wasn't even impressing the one who is impressive. If I really knew the glory of God in my life, I would step aside before people had the chance to think of me as impressive, and they would see God, the truly impressive one, from the very beginning, not just at the end.

April 5, 2011

The Power of Name

Four hundred homeless people sell The Contributer to earn a living in Nashville. Rain or shine, they're on the streets, selling newspapers--the highest-circulating street newspaper in North America, in fact. I met one of the vendors on my walk to work recently as I passed by Donut Den near Hillsboro High School in Green Hills. His name is Bryan. I gave him a dollar for The Contributor; he gave me a paper.

"Thanks," I said. "What's your name?"


I shook his hand and asked how he was doing.

"I've been better."

"You've been better?" I asked.

"I've been a lot better," he said. Then, he did something totally unexpected: looking away, pausing, and looking back at me, he moved his head slightly forward and asked,

"The Lord Jesus?"

"Yes," I said.

All he did was say the name of Jesus. The combination of his tone and his facial expression told me he was asking a question about my faith. When I said yes, he had stepped out from behind his mask and we talked as though we were brothers or long-time friends.

"When I'm bad, me and God are bad," he said. "But when I'm good, we're good."

"I'm sorry," I said, "That's hard." I paused and looked at him the same way he looked at me before. Then I was able to encourage him with the gospel (I knew it's what he needed to hear). I told him that the blood of Jesus has made him holy and to live in that holiness. He received it. Then, I asked his name again.


"Good to meet you Bryan. I'll see you later, man."

I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. In 90 seconds, he unpacked his soul to me and I encouraged him. We became brothers. All he had to do was say the name of Jesus, and in an instant, we connected. He didn't ask, Do you know Jesus? or, Are you a Christian? Just, The Lord Jesus? and I knew. I felt like we were early Christians, drawing fish in the sand.

Thank you, Bryan, for showing me the power of a name.

March 18, 2011

Peaceable Living

I met Karl Meyers on Sunday--Catholic atheist, radical pacifist, and avid gardener. He lives in northwest Nashville and he's got a story worth telling.

Some would say that he's a little coo coo for cocoa puffs, but I think they need the whole story before going that far. He's a man of conviction. They do have reason to speculate, though: he constructed a van in the 1970's as a Peace-mobile and drove it around the country for six years trying to convince people to withhold paying income tax because most of our taxes go toward war. He spent two years in jail and was locked up another 20 times. He's been interviewed, jailed and castigated for his radial protests, beliefs, and lifestyles. You can read more here, here, and here. Those articles should cover some of those issues. One of his friends was Dorothy Day. They even wrote letters to each other. When I went to his house last Sunday, he mentioned reading through Dorothy's letters again. All in all, he's a stud and maybe a little coo coo.

I love meeting people like Karl because they are like a diamond in the rough that you happen upon unexpectantly. I met him through a series of loosely connected, seemingly random relationships--I had a friend, who knew a friend, who knew a friend, who knew a friend, who knew him. The friend who introduced me to him is one of Karl's tenants at the Nashville Greenlands, a non-sectarian community from the Catholic Worker Movement located near Fisk University and Tennessee State. He founded the community. The girl who introduced me to him is Grace. I met her Sunday afternoon when her roommate, Sarah, told me to just come over to check out the community. I met Sarah at a Saturday morning breakfast at Keith's house, whom I met from one of my best friends from high school, Isaac. Somehow I found myself walking up to Karl's house through that tangled web I wove. I felt I was playing a character in some play that was written for me. Surreal.

Here's why I even went to the community in the first place: I have been wanting to practice communal living with Christians in a way that embodies the kingdom of God. Too often, I find myself living out my own individualistic, pietistic religion, ignoring my brothers' and sisters' and the world's need for relationship and love. That kind of religiosity is becoming more and more disappointing and empty to me. When I live self-absorbed, I'm living outside of reality, and God wants so much more for his creation than a disembodied, individualistic spirituality. He wants his kingdom come to earth; he doesn't want us to wait on his kingdom come for when we're long gone, pushing up daisies. He's got a plan for creation--it's called redemption. For these reasons, I've been asking the question, What does a radical follower of Christ do in the Bible belt where everyone has a taste of Christ? Some have a bitter taste left in their mouth, some haven't swallowed yet, and some have tasted that he is good. I ask this question, now, because I think Karl clarified the answer for me this Sunday. He spoke truth and it hit me square in the face.

Grace, one of Karl's tenants, led Nate (my friend) and I up to Karl's house around three o'clock that afternoon. He came out, shook my hand, and invited us in through his backdoor. We stepped into his home which he purchased 14 years ago for $18,000. The previous owner sold it because the house was run-down, taken over by overgrown plants, and located in a poor neighborhood. He could have bought a nicer house on the same street, but he wanted this one. It needed redemption. He spent seven months repairing it. Now, fourteen years later, he's still rockin it hard, living in the same house.

I immediately realized that I was in for an experience when he offered Nate and I some tea. (You know you're gonna stay for a while when someone offers you tea.) He put the water in the microwave. We caught him in the middle of his midday snack of two slices of ciabatta bread. On one slice, he put dijon mustard and green olives; on the other, peanut butter and green olives. We took the tea into the dinning room and sat down at the table.

He began to tell us about his community--the history, the communal meals, the values--and we listened. He's still talking about the things for which he was arrested forty years ago:

"Gas is one of the most violent things we do in the world today," he said. This conviction stopped him from driving the Peace-mobile around in the country in the Seventies. (He still has it on the side of his house--it tooks terrible.) He told us his opinion like it was the new idea he was toying around. He didn't really care too much that we had just met; it was time to talk about what matters, so I let him set the tone of the conversation. He spoke with calculation--each word, question, and topic was important to him--and I liked it. I trusted him.

"Did Sarah tell you? I'm a Catholic atheist," he said.

"No, she didn't, actually."

"Oh, I thought.... We'll, I don't pray or any of that stuff. I was very devout as a young man, but I'm not anymore."

He spoke with a matter-of-fact tone like he had come to terms with his identity when he was young and never changed. The conversation moved from his protesting days, to Dorothy day, to the communal meal they have every week there at the Nashville Greenlands. Every Tuesday the 17 residents share a meal together. Rent is only $100 per month, but he asks everyone to put in 20 hours of work into the garden every month. Did I mention he lives off a $7,000 annual income? He doesn't pay taxes, remember.

The conversation easily moved to the topic of God in whom he doesn't believe. I brought him up, and he asked the questions. I blame him cause I didn't really want a conflict the first time I met him. He's a legend around there. I don't want to make a bad impression on the celeb and my potential landlord one day. I decided I would use the word "God" in our conversation and he jumped on it:

"We'll what does God have to do with it?" he said (or something like that).

"God intended us to live different lives. We're living in a broken world, and it needs to be redeemed."

"The world is messed up. People are abusing resources, consuming and using everthing like it's limitless," he seemed to agree. He brought up gas again and I mentioned how I agree that we are using up what God gave us. He was mad that the governmental officials just sit around all day talking and not doing anything useful in the world, like growing things from the ground (he's a vegetarian btdub).

We talked a while about the nation of America and the kindom of God. I said that Jesus, as the king, set up a new way to be, a way that is different and alternative to the American way of life.

"That's really interesting," I said, "we've come to similar conclusions, just from different ways." This time, I was trying to reel him in.

"Oh really?" he said. "What convinced you of these things?"

"It's been my study of Jesus and the New Testament." This was somewhat shocking to him, it seemed. I told me that Jesus' kingdom was different.

"Jesus never claimed to be king."

"Well," I said, "that's not true. He actually he did claim to be a king." At this point, I knew I was opening a can of worms.


"In the gospel of John: when Jesus was talking with Pilate, he told him that he was a king."

"Well, we don't know what he actually said. We only know what the translations tell us."

I rehearsed the dialogue from the gospel of John, and he doubted me. So he got up and returned with three large Bibles. Opening the KJV he had to John 18 where Jesus talks with Pilate, he read passage including the line where Jesus says, "Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice." He closed the Bible with slight indignation and a humble demeanor. I was excited that he wanted to talk about the nature of Jesus. Not many people will go there on your first meet. We moved to various topics about kingdom, Christ, and community, and then he turned away from the historical Jesus toward Christians today.

He said, "So many Christians do not follow Christ. They can't even get along with each other. And they kill instead of make peace."

"And I would not rightly call them Christians because they don't follow Christ," I interrupted.

"So few Christians actually follow Christ's teachings," he said.

In a moment of inspiration, I asked him a pointed question: "Well, what do you want to see Christians do?"

He paused and said, "Live peaceably together."

I have hope for you, Karl, and for peaceable living. You are not far from the kingdom of God, my friend. Not far at all.

March 13, 2011

A Cig and a Mugging

I walk home from work every night after I get off work. That’s what I told Niekia tonight as I walked her to her car. I didn’t want to let her to get mugged walking out to the car. As she lit a cig, she asked me where I parked.

“I walk home,” I said.

My comment was followed by silence and one of those looks women give.

“I only live a quarter mile from here,” I told her.

“Don’t ever walk home again,” she said. “I don’t want anyone to walk home after what happened to me. Late after a shift, I was walking home at 1:00 in the morning with all my tips from the day and I got mugged…” and she ended the story short with, “That’s why I carry the pepper spray.”

She’d been waiting for that cigarette all shift. I empathized about how hard it is to quit. We walked up to the third floor of the Green Hills’ Mall parking garage. She wouldn’t let me walk home, so I got in the car and rode home.

On the quarter-mile drive down the street to my apartment, she told me about how she got mugged and beat up real bad by some “big guy”. That was the same story of when she was walking home at 1:00 in the morning. It must have been terrible from what I gathered. Because she kept repeating, “You should never walk this late at night.” She was probably right, maybe right. It didn’t really matter in the moment. I said, “Okay.”

She also told me about her three boys, Charlie, Nathaniel, and Caleb—10, 6, and 3—and how her legal husband is only a husband on paper. They are legally married. She told me how he pays her only $60 a week for child support. That money only covers about half of her $133 childcare.

She took her boys to Gatlinburg last year. She spent all her tax return and the four of them—she and her three boys—had the time of their lives in the worst tourist attraction Tennessee has to offer. They rented a cabin with a jacuzzi, just her and her boys. She videotaped the entire weekend. She was more than nostalgic about what sounded like a terriblely boring trip to me.

She went on. “I promised them I would take them to Chattannoga this year—I want to see the aquarium….” Then, she dropped me off to go back to her three boys.

Thanks Niekia (if that’s how you spell your name), you taught me a beautiful lesson tonight. I’m not even sure how to articulate it, but it was beautiful.

September 17, 2010

You Can Do It

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the actuality of becoming like Jesus because it's not as easy as I once thought.

A number of years ago, there was this discipleship campaign called, "What Would Jesus Do?" with the braclets and the whole bit. I remember getting one of the wrist bands, thinking it was the best thing that ever happened to my wrist. I was enamored with the idea of doing what Jesus did, what he actually said. I was ready for change.

The braclet didn't make me more like Jesus, though. The implication behind the question on the braclet was this--If someone wearing the braclet looked at their wrist randomly, they would be reminded to be like Jesus, ask themselves, "What would Jesus do?", know the answer, and be able to carry it out. The problem with me and the braclet had little to do with the marketing scheme or even the nature of the campaign. The problem was simply this:

I can't do what Jesus would do. It's too far beyond me.

Even if I happened to look at the braclet randomly and ask myself the question, I cannot even answer the question, "What Would Jesus Do?" without a lot of speculation. He lived in a specific context totally removed from my 21st-century, American self. For example, "What would Jesus do for a job today?" The economy is down, he might not be able to get a carpentry job. Would he take that decently paying sales job if that's all he could get after college graduation? Would Jesus even go to college? Would Jesus would live in a big city so he could be influential? Didn't he live in the country? None of those things are bad, I just don't know if that's what Jesus would do.

The problem with "What Would Jesus Do?" is not simply that it's hard to answer; it's also that I am incapable of living up to what he can do. He's too far beyond me, he's life-style out of my reach, higher than mine. So my condolences to the nice braclet people and all the good-hearted supporters, but I have a confession to make:

I don't know what Jesus would do; even if I did, I can't do it.

He already knows that though: "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15). I'm glad he can, and I'd like to let him do that in my life.

Thanks for the lesson, Bob VanFleteren, Alan Hirsch, and Andy Stanley.

March 14, 2010

Top 10 Best Audio of 2009

I listened to over 100 hours of audio last year (podcasts, comedy, sermons, news, podcasts). Between 18 hrs of work driving a truck and 8 hours commuting every week, I had a little time to listen. I decided that I'd share the "best of" from all those hours of listening. These were rated based on most enjoyable, helpful and interesting. Here they are:

Top 10 Best Talks/Interviews/Lectures/Sermons/Narrations of 2009:

1. Geoffery Canada and Harlem Children's Zone Interview, "Inner-city Education" on educational reform in America:

Summ: Geoffery Canada has nullified the educational gap between white and black students for those at his school in New York. Obama plans on implementing Geoffery's model in 20 cities in America. Revolutionary schooling for the poor and underprivelaged. This interview was on 12/6/09.

Link: Click Here

2. Jean Vanier Interview, "The Wisdom of Tenderness" with Krista Tippett:

Summ: Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche communities, received a doctorate in philosophy and used it to spend time with the mentally and physically handicaped. His story of founding L'Arche is amazing and everyone needs to know about L'Arche. This interview was on Dec 20, 2007 (I listened to it last year, so it's still a best of 2009 in my books).

Link: Click Here

3. Timothy Tennent - "The Translatability of the Gospel" by Pres. Timothy Tennent (Asbury Theological Seminary):

Summ: This sermon started my semester off last year and I was truly inspired. If you're a Christian, whether an academic or an anti-intellectual, you will be encouraged by this sermon on how the gospel was intended to be translated from it's inception by Jesus.

Fav Quote: "Christianity is the only one of the major world religions to have it's primary documents written in a language other than what it's founder spoke in."

Link: Click Here. Go to page 5, then "Translateability of the Gospel" on September 10, 2009.

4. N.T. Wright's "The Language of Life" lectures (part 1 and 2):

Summ: **This has been one of the most formative lectures I've ever listened to. Wright says we need to learn the language of life, and in learning we will be able to speak truth and stability and live out "miracles" in the world. If life has lost its shine for you, you will be encouraged by this message.

Link: Click Here

5. Francis Chan's Message for Ministers - Exponential 2009 Conference Closing Sermon:

Summ: This is one of the most encouraging sermons I've listened to in the last few years. Chan speaks at the National New Church Conference to church planters to tell them that no matter how much knowledge they have, they need to also have courage to follow the Spirit.

Video is all I could find - Click Here.

6. Andy Stanley's Four Part Sermon Series on God's Will (1/9/08 - 2/19/08):

Summ: Andy Stanley's at his best here. He's a great preacher and good exegete. He brings the difficult subject of God's will into four amazingly profound, insightful yet practical principles. Besides Randy Gariss's theology on God's will, this is the best I've heard.

Links: (unfortunately these are only available for purchase through DVD and book)
-DVD: Click Here
-Book: Click Here

7. Mark Driscoll on the topics of Heart and Planning from Proverbs

Summ: As much as I hate to say it, Driscoll had two sermons that have been really helpful for me in the last year. 1) Heart - this is a theology of heart from Proverbs on pursuing God's deepest longings in your life and 2) Planning - this is a theology of thinking before you act and really helpful

Link: Click Here
-Proverbs: Planning - 8/16/09
-Proverbs: Heart - 5/10/09

8. This American Life Podcast:

Summ: Of all the podcasts I listened to last year, I always looked forward to this one. I was never disappointed. Here are the top three. Listen to them all:
-Episode #286, "Mind Games" on play pranks on people... that turn on their heads.
-Episodes #391, #392 (two-part series) "More is Less" and "Someone Else's Money" on American healthcare
-Episode #396, #1 Party School" on Penn State, the number one party school in America

Link: Click on the links above. This one costs a worthy $.99/archived episode.

9. Tony Campolo - On the Environment

Summ: This was a really helpful and balanced discussion of environmental issues going on right now. This is a two part series.

Link: Click Here

10. Garrison Keillor - Prarie Home Companion:

Summ: Every episode is good! Listen to this week's and you won't be diappointed to hear stories from a place where "all the men are good looking, all the women are strong and all the children are above average." No, really listen to it; you won't be able to stop.

Link: Click Here

What do you think?
After you listen to any or all of them, let me know what you think.

February 10, 2010

The Funk

I finally heard someone say it. I've been waiting for these words to come out of someone's mouth because I know we're all thinking it. I heard it at the Mercy Lounge, a venue in Nashville a few weeks ago. The Space Capone was playing "fun funk" music. At least that's how Ben Gortmaker, their fill-in bass player, described it to me in a text when I was deciding whether to go or not. The lead singer and nine others took stage and rocked one of the most enjoyable funk songs I've ever experienced. These were the words of the chorus: "If it feels good..." and then in musical matter-of-faction, they ended the line, "It's alright." I was planning on sitting down for the show--that didn't happen. It felt too good to stand up for that.

I loved the show, so thanks Ben Gortmaker for putting me on the list. The chorus of their song is the modus operandi of our culture--whatever you feel is right and conversely, whatever you don't feel, isn't right. This leaves us really confused the next day from whatever we did the night before.

Here's to a smooth and diplomatic transition: You and I tend to put experience above all else and I think we're missing out on the depths and riches of true life because of it. It wasn't until this last January in class that I realized how much we as modern Christians base our relationship with God solely on experience and not on unwavering devotion of Christ.

I think experience is invaluable and essential to our faith. The Holy Spirit himself is an experiential person, giving us feelings, intuitions, inclinations and desires. These are all very good and I treasure those experiences in my life when the Holy Spirit has cried out, "Abba, Father," on my behalf with a groaning words can't express. Even in Paul's defense of the gospel in his letter to Galatia, he uses experience as the first argument of his probatio (3.1-5). Here's what I'm saying: I've seen many Christians get "experiences" with God early on in their walk but when they stop having them, they give up on faithfulness. As Americans, we love Romance but we hate commitment to long-lasting relationships and we're not alright.

N.T. Wright put it this way in answering a question posed to him in a lecture called "The Language of Life" (part 2 of 2): "Romance is wonderful; a steady worked out relationship is better. Striking a match is very exciting, but it's not going to last long. Use the match to light a candle and it will give a steady beautiful light to the room. Yeah fine, let's have some more matches, that's fine... sparkles, but you can't live off of that stuff. I mean I really do worry about that."

The question given him was: "Do you think that the church is preoccupied with sort of like maintaining the honeymoon period or a crush with God and we're not getting engaged in the marriage? I think that God calls us to more than that."

I'm running a half-Marathon in April. It's in Music City. If I approach this training like a romantic, I'll probably be out of shape, run slowly and injure myself somehow. But if I take it one week at a time, working steadily, I think I'll cross the finish line in shape, with a good time and without injury. I think it's also going to feel amazing to complete this one big step for Chad-kind.

Again, experience is essential (Isa 6; Matt 17). However, if we stay there, we won't mature. And that is God's will for our lives, that we be sanctified (Jam 1; 1 Th 4). Our Christian existentialism, coming from at least 20th century theology and philosophy, focuses on our emotions which is good in part (especially after Plato). The problem is that when we live a merely emotionalized spirituality, we miss out on the joy of a holistic salvation. This kind of salvation takes us beyond ourselves and what we feel to push us into the kingdom of God. I think the question posed to Wright was brilliant--we are obsessed with the honeymoon period even in our relationship with God. What would a Christian look like who started out with all the feelings and kept running and maturing even when feelings subsided? That sounds like true Spirituality to me.

January 26, 2010

The Face of Humility

Yesterday, I drove a 27-foot truck to Bowling Green, KY for work and found out what humility looks like. I started working for a document destruction company this summer called Knight Horst Shredding. I drive a truck and shred paper. We're based out of Nashville but sometimes we do runs to cities within a few hours of us. So I was given the KY route yesterday and I met a guy who showed me humility.

I was standing outside of the GM plant in Bowling Green loading and unloading some trash cans of full and empty paper into the truck with one of the maintenence workers for the plant. I forgot his name. His job was to take care of trash and to help maintain the physical structure of the building. I could tell that he was in his late thirties and he didn't have a hint of presumption in him. He was a really happy, too--he told me that GM was the best company he had ever worked for. They bought him $180 boots every year, and when some of the "higher-ups" came to town, his boss invited him to get beers, too, not just his supervisors.

"When you have something to say, they do it," he said. "If you've got a good idea or need tools, they'll support you... they listen," he summarized. As we were talking and un/loading, he asked me if I liked my job.

I told him, "No, it's just a job for me right now." It has been just a job for me over the last six months. Then, I told him something good about the job: "But it's taught me humility."

And his response caught me off guard completely: "How's that?"

My job is basically a glorified trashman, I was thinking. I remember reading that MLKJ said even if you're a street-sweeper, be the best street-sweeper you can be. Paper-shredding became my street-sweeping this summer, and I told the GM worker that it had taught me humility.

By the way he asked the question, I realized in that moment that I had just said something about his job too--that it was subpar and benneth me. My words hit me in the face through his piercing question. I could tell that he understood what I had said, but he didn't even know what I meant when I said that this job had taught me humility.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I read part of C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. I say "part" because I had to stop at his chapter called "The Great Sin" in reference to pride. I had to read it a few times. It haunted me that I could have every virtue and still have the greatest sin, pride. So I resolved to define and understand pride so I could avoid it like the plague. I was never satisfied with any effable definition; instead, I decided that I could only recognize it in myself and others, not define it.

That day I saw the opposite of pride in the GM worker who was helping me unload trash cans from the truck. I have been humbled but I'm not humble yet. He was humble.

January 20, 2010

Sticks and Stones, Love (Positive Theology: v)

There’s great irony in my writing this blog entry.
I want to talk about the power of the spoken word and I’m typing. Hear me out though, metaphorically speaking. My whole life I’ve heard, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Recently, I’ve given it a second thought.

Commuting from Nashville to Lexington every week last semester game me a lot of time to think about the words I’ve heard and spoken.
Then, this week, I lost my voice and I couldn’t speak for about three days, so I had time to think about life without words. I went through an entire day of work without my full voice. It was amazing how differently life happened without the ability to speak. My job requires that I go in and out of offices picking up paper for shredding. Then, I’m required to put the paper in a truck and shred it, ‘Mobile Shredding,’ it says on the side of my truck. There’s a small constituent of receptionists in Nashville that know me only as “The Shredder.” I’ve never met the ninja turtles, but maybe if I keep this identity, they’ll find me. Going in and out of these offices without the ability to speak made me realize that they probably think I’m mute! I had the thought—how much different would I be if I could never speak? I don’t really know, but I’d probably be a better person... maybe worse.

I am making a verse in Hebrews 3 one of my life verses: “Encourage one another daily as long as it is called today.”
I don’t know how to encourage someone without using words. Okay, I guess I could write letters and give pats on the back, but I’m not sure if there’s a more powerful way to encourage someone than to speak. I guess that’s why preaching is powerful. I say preaching not in a negative way but in the true meaning of the word. Preaching, when done well, is encouraging. Everyone thinks about God, but it’s completely different to talk about him. I used to think that preaching meant coming up cool, new ideas about the nature of God every week. But I think preaching is different. Preaching doesn’t require innovation but simply using the spoken word to remind the people of God the content and meaning God’s story.

It’s kind of like when you know someone is holding something against you and they just need to say it.
You wanna scream: “Say what you need to say?” But John Mayer’s words would only make the elephant in the room more awkward. I think God wants me to confess more... out loud. Not just to Him but to people I’ve hurt. James told the early Christians, “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Something happens when we speak the truth even if it’s about sin.

There’s something about talking to people that we tend to avoid: confrontation.
It’s so easy to talk about people, but it’s hard to talk to people. I have this theory that I’ll never be able to prove. It’s that every war, divorce and broken relationship comes from bad communication—words spoken rashly, words spoken in hate or words never spoken at all.